Between The Lines: A short story of romance.

A short 20k romance that I thought I’d throw up here. I wrote some time ago. It’s not very erotic, just romantic with some healthy flirtation. Comment below. It may need another edit. Maybe i’ll publish it or maybe I’ll just let you, Reader, enjoy it here.

 

BETWEEN THE LINES

On Tuesday morning, Ina plunks down on the corner of Minnie’s desk, knocking one of her carefully ordered stacks of books askew, and says, “So, have you met the new children’s librarian yet?”

Minnie does not have time for Ina right now. She carefully restores order to her stack of books and says, without looking at Ina, “Get off my desk.” She pokes Ina’s knee. “Now.” Ina doesn’t.

“Well?” Ina says, “Have you?”

Minnie resists the urge to sigh. She looks away from her computer. “Get off my desk,” she says and pokes Ina’s knee again, harder this time. She pauses then adds, just for spite, “Now.”

It’s a mistake because Ina lunges across her desk, to do what Minnie’s not sure, and all of her carefully ordered stacks of books go tumbling to the floor. “Ina,” she snaps just as Ina says, “Shit. Shit. Sorry. Sorry. Let me- ” and – finally – gets off Minnie’s desk.

Ina gathers up the books and drops them on Minnie’s desk. They land in an ungainly heap. Minnie thinks longingly of her carefully ordered stacks. She looks up at Ina. “I hate you,” she says flatly.

Ina nods absently. “Sure. Right. Of course you do.” She’s staring down at the books. She runs her finger down the spine of the new Cussler and says, “I thought the new girl did these already?”

“She did,” Minnie huffs and starts recreating her stacks, “But she didn’t look at the packing slip.” She slams a Patterson down, harder than she should, narrowly missing Ina’s fingers. “None of them were supposed to go out until next week at the earliest.”

Ina winces. “Did you get them all back or- ”

Minnie takes a deep breath and carefully and precisely settles Amanda Quick’s on top of Patterson. “No,” she says, “I didn’t. Two of them were already checked out including the latest Danielle Steel which wasn’t supposed to be on the shelf for another two weeks.

“If you kill her,” Ina says, fiddling with the ridiculous, pink feather topped pen Minnie’d received in the grab bag at the holiday party a few years ago, “Gordon will be sad.”

Minnie finishes her stacking and says, “I’m not- ” just as Fiona walks in, all smiles, travel mug in one hand, and says, in a disgustingly cheerful tone of voice, “Good morning.”

Ina waves at her and hisses to Minnie, “Remember no killing.”

Minnie rolls her eyes and says to Fiona, “No food or drinks in here, remember?”

Her smile falters. “Oh,” she says, “Right. It’s got a lid, though,” and waves it towards her.

“Great,” Minnie says and turns back to her computer, “Still can’t have it in here. Go put it in the staff room and then we have to talk.”

“Fine. Okay,” Fiona says, “What do you want to talk about?”.

“About,” Minnie says slowly, resisting the urge to yell, “how, apparently, you can’t read or be bothered to look at the packing slips.” She waves a Nora Roberts at Fiona. “Go,” she snaps, “Get rid of your coffee.”

“It’s tea,” Fiona interjects.

“I don’t care,” Minnie says, “Get rid of it and come back so I can explain everything you did wrong.”

Fiona holds up her hands. “Touchy, touchy,” she says and backs out of the room.

Minnie slams the Nora Roberts down, hard enough that she knocks her stack askew. “I swear,” she says to Ina, carefully pushing the spines of the books back into alignment, “I have no idea why Mason and the board hired her.”

Ina smiles and says sweetly, “To make your life easier, of course,” because she’s mean.

Minnie glares at her. “I really do hate you.”

Ina laughs and comes around the desk to pat her shoulder. “Just don’t kill her, okay? I’ve got to go fix whatever Gordon’s done to his computer now.”

Minnie wants very much to put her head in her hands and sigh. Instead she picks up a book and starts fixing Fiona’s mistakes. Ina ruffles her hair and skips away before Minnie can smack her hand. “I’ll be back. Play nice with the new girl.”

“I hate you,” Minnie calls after her.

“You love me,” Ina calls back with a smile and blows her a kiss.

Minnie has fixed two of the five books and is just opening a Cussler so she can scan the barcode when Fiona sidles back into the room. She comes over, leans against Minnie’s desk, pokes the corner of Quick, and says, “You know, I already did these, right?”

Minnie carefully closes the Cussler and puts it down. She takes a slow, deep, hopefully calming breath, then turns to look at her. “Yeah,” she says, “You did. Except, did you look at the packing slip when you took them out of the box?”

“No,” Fiona says, “Uh, was I supposed to?”

“Yes,” Minnie says, “you were. If you had- “ She taps the Cussler. “You would have realized before you put all these books on the shelf, that this doesn’t come out until next Tuesday. And this- “ She pokes the Quick. “Doesn’t come out for two weeks. And this- “ She points at the Roberts.

“All right, all right,” Fiona interrupts, “I get it. I should’ve looked at the packing slip.”

Minnie narrows her eyes. “Yes. You really should have. Two of the books you put on the shelf got checked out before I could get to them. Including the new Danielle Steel which doesn’t come out for two weeks.”

Fiona shifts a little. “That’s bad, huh?”

Minnie resists the urge to grab handfuls of her hair and pull as hard as she can. She takes a deep breath. “Yes,” she says slowly, “That’s bad.”

Fiona looks away. “I, uh,” she says, “I didn’t realize we got books before they came out.”

“You didn’t- “ Minnie says then stops because what?. “Where exactly,” she says slowly, “Did Mason find you?”

Fiona looks back at her. “Uh, The Carlton School Archive and Library.”

“The art school?” She tries very hard not to shout but, she’s guessing, from the way Fiona’s eyebrows go up, she hasn’t succeeded.

Fiona hunches her shoulders. “Gordon used to work at the museum there.”

“Gordon,” Minnie says, “did community outreach and children’s programming there while he looked for a job as a Children’s Librarian. You- “ She pauses and takes another deep breath.“When was the last time you worked in a public library? Have you ever worked in a public library?”

Fiona shrugs. “I worked in, uh, the Willow County system for a few months after I finished library school.”

Minnie opens her mouth then snaps it shut and doesn’t open it again until she’s sure she’s not going to scream. “Just go work on the books Fallon brought down. The ones she wants switched so she can do her reorganization of the reference section. And don’t touch any of the Automatically Yours boxes or the Brodart ones or, you know what, just don’t touch any of the boxes period. Not until I say you can.” Fiona opens her mouth. Minnie points at her. “Now is not the time to argue with me. Go.” Fiona goes. Minnie waits until she’s halfway across the room to add, “We’ll go through the boxes together and I’ll show you how it all works, okay?”

Fiona looks back and smiles a little. “Okay,” she says. She pauses then says, “Thanks.”

Minnie waves her off. “Go. Work on Fallon’s cart of books.”

She waits until Fiona’s back is to her then she puts her face in her hands and sighs.

Ina comes back just as Minnie’s starting on the work she’d actually planned to do this morning. She’s not alone. She has a guy Minnie’s never seen before tucked under her arm. He’s short – Ina towers over him – with dark, slicked back hair. He’s also kind of ridiculously attractive, which isn’t really something she should be noticing, because this is, undoubtedly, the new children’s librarian. He’s smiling up at Ina in the dazed sort of way people often do after they meet Ina for the first time. “Minnie,” Ina calls, “Come here and say hi.”

Minnie stares at her stacks of books for a moment but there’s no point in stalling even though, thanks to Fiona, she’s behind on everything she wanted to get done today. She gets up and goes over. “Minnie,” Ina says, beaming, “Meet Nicolas, the new children’s librarian.” The guy, Nicolas, smiles brightly. “Nicolas,” Ina continues, “Meet Minnie, head of tech services. Don’t piss her off or you’ll never get your books put in.”

Nicolas, somewhat unbelievably, smiles even more brightly at that. “I would never,” he says. He has an accent, like Pablo’s but more pronounced. He holds out his hand. “It is very nice to meet you, Minnie.”

She shakes his hand and musters up a smile. “Ah, nice to meet you too.”

“And that,” Ina says, gesturing in Fiona’s general direction, “Is Fiona.”

Fiona waves. “Hey.”

Nicolas shrugs out from under Joe’s arm and goes over to shake Fiona’s hand.

Ina elbows Minnie and whispers, “She’s still alive. Good job.”

Minnie rolls her eyes and elbows Ina back. She’s about to tell her to fuck off but Nicolas’ back. “So,” he says, looking around, “This is tech services, then?”

“Yes, uh- ” She glances at her desk. She doesn’t have time to give him the nickel tour or whatever. “This is it.” He smiles at her and looks at her like he’s waiting for her to say more. “I’ve really- ” she starts. She glances at Ina.

Ina rolls her eyes but she says brightly, “Don’t mind Minnie. It’s been a bad morning. She’s having some kind of cataloging crisis.”

Minnie almost snorts. The only cataloging crisis she has is named Fiona.

Nicolas’ eyes widen. He actually looks concerned. He touches her elbow, just lightly, but she’s not expecting it and she startles. “I’m sorry,” he says, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No,” she says. She steps away from him. She’s not sure what to make of his earnest concern, doesn’t know how to react. “Really. It’s fine. I just- ”

He smiles. “Ah, I’m keeping you from your work. I’m sorry. I’ll go. I have to go into story time with Gordon anyway. I’ll come back another time? You’ll show me tech services?”

“Yeah,” she says, because she feels kind of bad for being so abrupt with him, “Sure.”

“Good,” he says, “It really was nice to meet you.” He touches her shoulder and then he’s gone before she can respond.

Once he’s gone, Ina huffs, “You could have been nicer, you know?”

“What?” Minnie crosses her arms over her chest. “I was perfectly nice.”

Ina rolls her eyes. “You all but kicked the poor guy out.”

“What? I did not. And anyway, Ina, a cataloging crisis, really?”

Ina shrugs. She glances at Fiona then leans in and hisses, “Better than saying Fiona’s driving you crazy.”

“I hate you,” Minnie says. She really does.

Ina smiles. “You keep saying that but we both know it’s a lie.”

Minnie decides that most certainly does not merit a response so she turns her back on Ina and goes back to her desk.

******

When Minnie comes back from lunch, she finds Ina slumped at her desk staring at a copy of New Moon with, “Is that gum on the cover?” she asks.

Ina nods and says glumly, “Strawberry.” Minnie really doesn’t want to know how Ina knows what flavor of gum it is. “When,” Ina says, swiveling around to stare at Minnie, “did it become my job to scrape gum off of stuff, huh? When? It is so not digital services or technology related.”

Minnie shrugs. “When Shay left and Mason asked if anyone had experience with book repair and you didn’t keep your mouth shut about that workshop on it you went to that one time.”

Ina glances toward Fiona who’s doing something, hopefully not incorrectly, in the corner. “Well,” Ina says thoughtfully, “couldn’t- ”

“No,” Fiona says, “I’m a cataloger. I don’t- ” She waves her hands toward Ina. “Not my job.”

Ina narrows her eyes and snaps, “Oh, shut up, Fiona.” Minnie glares at Fiona too, just on general principle. Fiona rolls her eyes and goes back to whatever she was doing.

Minnie looks back at the book. “Well, can you fix it?”

Ina reaches out and lifts up the cover, half the pages go with it. “There’s more,” she says, “inside.” She drops the book. “So, no, don’t think so.”

“You’re going to have to tell Micah,” Minnie says, “So he can re-order it.”

Ina’s eyes widen dramatically. “Oh, no. C’mon, can’t you?”

“No,” Minnie says, “Absolutely not.”

“But, Minnie,” Ina whines, “He’s going to give me his whole speech again about how he’ll re-order it because it’s popular but Bella Swan’s a terrible role model for young women, there are way better books, blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard it, like, a thousand times.”

Minnie’s pretty sure everyone in the library’s heard Micah’s feelings about Twilight a thousand times, except-  She glances toward Fiona. “Send Fiona,” she says, “She hasn’t heard it.”

Ina smiles delightedly, “Oh, Minnie, you have the best ideas. Fiona, c’mere.”

Fiona’s head jerks up and she looks around. “What? C’mon. Can’t you just email him or call him or whatever?”

Ina waves the book at her. “Nah, he doesn’t believe books need to be discarded unless he actually sees what a mess they are. He’s like, sentimental about them all or some shit. Come on.”

Fiona comes over. She screws her face up and picks the book up with her fingertips. “This,” she says, “is disgusting.”

Ina shrugs. “Not as disgusting as that one book with the mysterious brown stains that might have been chocolate but also might not have been chocolate.”

Fiona wrinkles her nose. “Do I,” she says, looking over at Minnie, “Really have to…”

Minnie nods. “Yup.”

“Fine,” Fiona huffs. She holds the book as far away from himself as she can and heads for the door.

When she’s gone, Ina smiles broadly and holds her hand up for a high-five. Minnie dutifully offers the high-five and lets Ina drag her through the lame, multipart handshake she’d invented for them. At the end of it, though, Ina slumps against her desk and says, “I really need to convince Mason to hire someone to do book repair because I really don’t know what I’m doing and Youtube videos are only getting me so far.”

Minnie pats her shoulder. “Yeah. Okay. Good luck with that,” she says then heads back to her desk.

Fiona’s gone a little longer than Minnie thought she’d be. When she comes back she looks shell-shocked, which, okay, is probably a completely reasonable reaction to Micah’s Twilight rant.

“So,” Ina says, all cat who ate the canary, “How’d it go?”

Fiona drops the book on Ina’s desk. “Uh,” she says, “I told him I liked the movies.”

“You didn’t,” Ina says, laughing, “God, I almost wish I’d been there just to see his face.”

Fiona smiles a little. “He, uh, he kinda just stared at me for a minute then he talked for like ten whole minutes about how much worse the movies are than the books.” Fiona shrugs. “I thought about telling him I only like them because that dude who plays the werewolf is fucking jacked but…”

Minnie loses her battle to keep from laughing then because just imagining Micah’s response to that is hilarious.

It takes a long time for them all to stop laughing. Then they all stare awkwardly at each other, because what do you do after someone you’re not really sure you like makes you laugh hysterically? Finally Fiona says, “I’m just going to, uh, go back to, yeah.” And they all turn away from each other and go back to their work.

******

By the end of the day, all Minnie wants to do is go home, curl up on her sofa and, maybe, if she’s feeling ambitious, watch TV. She’s just tugged her jacket on, when Ina loops her arm around her shoulders and says, “Come with me to dinner.”

“Ina,” she sighs, “I- ”

“Please,” Ina says, squeezing her close.

“I thought,” Minnie says, glancing up at her, “Kim was back?”

Ina shakes her head and says mournfully, “Nope. Three more days.”

Minnie almost gives in but, really, she’s not up for more of Ina right now. “Sorry,” she says, slipping out of Ina’s hold, “Think I’m just going home.”

Minnie,” Ina says, “C’mon…”

“No,” Minnie says, grabbing her purse off her desk and starting towards the door, “Go bother Rhett. Maybe, if you’re lucky, he’ll take pity on you, take you home, and Alaine will feed you.”

Ina brightens up a bit at that. “You think so?”

“Sure,” she says. She’s almost to the door. “Just go look pathetic in front of Rhett.”

“All right,” Ina says, “But tomorrow, you, me, the diner, okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah,” Minnie says and ducks out the door.

******

On Friday morning, Ina bursts into the room while Minnie’s explaining Brodart’s PDQ program to Fiona. “That can’t actually really be what that stands for,” Fiona’s saying, when Ina interrupts with, “The police are here.”

“What?” Minnie and Fiona say in unison.

Ina shrugs. She’s half in the room, half still in the hall. “I don’t know,” she says. She jerks her head toward the hall. “Just come look.”

Minnie puts down the packing slip she’s holding and slips past Ina out into the hallway. Taylor, Gordon, and Nicolas are clustered in front of the entrance to the Children’s Room.

“Hey,” Minnie says, “You guys know what’s going on?”

Taylor points towards the back door. “We’re not sure but Mason’s out there talking to a cop.”

Minnie looks outside. Right in front of the back door is Mason and a patrol officer and just beyond them is-  She squints a little. “Is that…” she trails off because it can’t be.

Gordon nudges her. “What?”

She points. “Uh, is that the inside part of the upstairs book drop?”

Gordon takes a step forward. “I think,” he says slowly, “That it is.”

Before any of them can ask the very reasonable question of why does a patrol officer have the inside part of the upstairs book drop?, Mason comes inside pulling the object in question behind him.

He stares at them all then he lifts one eyebrow and says, “Don’t you all have things you should be doing?” Nobody moves. Mason rolls his eyes. “Apparently someone forgot to lock the book drop by the front door and someone, probably a kid, decided taking this- “ He wiggles the handle of the book drop cart. “For a joyride was a fun idea. Officer Scott found it over on Main Street.” He pauses. “Is your curiosity satisfied?” They all nod. He smiles a little. “Go back to work.” Then he walks in-between Minnie and Gordon and heads towards the elevator, the book drop cart trailing after him like a wobbly, recalcitrant duckling.

They wait until Mason’s gone up in the elevator and then, well, Minnie can’t tell who starts laughing first, but nobody stops for a very long time.

“Does that kind of stuff,” Fiona says, after the door to tech services slams shut behind Ina, “happen a lot?”

Ina and Minnie look at each other and shrug. “I think,” Ina says, “That was a first. But, if you mean weird shit, then I guess, yeah. People can be weird. This is a public place. Lots of people come in here.” She shrugs again. “Weird shit happens.”

“Huh,” Fiona says.

Ina reaches over and punches her shoulder. “Don’t worry. You don’t work on the floor. At least, not really. You’ll miss most of the weirdest shit. Right, Minnie?”

Minnie nods. “Yeah. Probably.” Fiona looks relieved which, mostly, makes Minnie hope meanly that she has to cover the reference desk at some point. Some point very soon.

******

When the phone rings, Minnie looks up, hoping someone else is in the office. No one is so she reaches for the phone. “City Library, Tech Services, Minnie speaking, can I help you?” she says, a response that is, by now, so automatic that she has, on at least one embarrassing occasion, answered her own phone that way.

“Minnie?” It’s Rhett. He sounds a bit panicked. “Can you-  Look, can you come up here?”

“Why?”

“Just- ” He pauses then she can hear him say, “Ah, un momento, por favor.” She winces. His accent is horrendous and, despite her’s and Pablo’s (mostly Pablo’s) best efforts, those are actually the only worlds he knows in Spanish.

She sighs. “Where’s Pablo, Rhett?”

“At a workshop,” he says, “Please, Minnie, can you come up here.”

“Willa?” she asks.

“It’s Friday, Minnie,” he says, “Just, can you come up here?”

“Right,” she says, “Okay, be right up.”

“Thank you,” he says fervently, “Really.”

She hangs up and stares at the phone. The thing is she became a cataloger because, well, because she loves cataloging, but also because it allows her to interact with as little of the public as possible. A couple years ago, Jamie- Fallon’s predecessor- and Rhett had both had the flu at the same time and she’d worked multiple shifts at the reference desk. It had been terrible. She shakes her head, no point dwelling, Rhett’s waiting.

When she gets to the reference desk, she finds Rhett smiling awkwardly at a young looking woman with a little girl clinging to her leg. Rhett looks visibly relieved when he sees her. He says to the woman, “Ah, this is Minnie, she- ” He gives Minnie a help me look.

The woman turns toward Minnie and she puts on her best customer service smile and says, “Hello, my name’s Minnie, what can we help you with?

The woman smiles tentatively. She looks relieved but also a touch wary. “Hello,” she says, “I, my little girl.” She puts her hand on her child’s head. “She will be starting school, in the fall, and I have to register her. I need, there is a form, I think?”

Minnie smiles. “Okay. I’ll explain to Rhett and he’ll get you what you need, all right?

The woman glances back at Rhett. “You,” she says, “you cannot…” She trails off.

I’ll stay,” Minnie says, “Okay?

The woman smiles. “Thank you, thank you so much.

Minnie ends up staying and helping the woman, Sophia, fill out the form while Rhett makes friends with her little girl, Isabella. When they’re done, Sophia’s thankful and smiling and, Minnie thinks, maybe, sometimes, reference work isn’t so bad, but cataloging is still way better.

******

When Minnie slips into the break room a little before three, in search of some much needed coffee, she finds Rhett sitting on one side of the table and Pablo and Nicolas sitting on the other. ”Mi,” Pablo is saying, very slowly, “nombre es.”

Minnie grabs her mug out of the cabinet.

“Uh,” Rhett says, “Could you maybe say it again? Like, slower maybe?”

Minnie pours the last dregs of coffee in the coffee pot into her mug.

Behind her, Pablo sighs and then says, “Mi – nombre – es.”

Minnie plunks down into the chair at the head of the table and watches Rhett squint at Pablo and say, “Um, Mi- mi nombre- “ He stops.

Minnie tries very hard not to laugh because Rhett so earnestly wants to learn Spanish but he’s just so dreadful at it.

“Uh,” Rhett says, “What was the next bit?”

Pablo, who is ten times more patient than Minnie- she is not allowed to teach Rhett anymore because of an incident, which ended in yelling, which they’ve agreed never to discuss again and Rhett’s graciously forgiven her for-  says, “Nombre.”

Minnie takes a sip of her coffee (it’s wretched), eyes the plate of cookies in the middle of the table, and reminds herself not to wince at Rhett’s accent.

“Nombre,” Rhett says haltingly.

Nicolas winces but Pablo smiles a little. “Not bad.”

Rhett slumps back in his chair. “You are such a liar.”

Pablo shrugs and pushes the plate of cookies closer to Rhett. “Have a cookie.”

Rhett eyes the cookies skeptically. “Who made them?”

“Kevin,” Pablo says.

“They’re really good,” Nicolas says, which, if Kevin made them, that goes without saying.

Minnie leans across the table. “Give me one.”

Rhett grabs one then pushes the plate towards Minnie. She grabs one and abandons her really terrible coffee in favor of the cookie which is amazing.

Rhett says, in between bites of cookie, “M’never going to get it am I?”

“Uh,” Pablo says, he glances at Minnie, she pointedly looks down at her cookie instead. She is not getting involved in this discussion. “Just,” Pablo says, “Keep trying. Me and Minnie and Willa, we are all here if you need help with patrons, okay?”

“And me,” Nicolas says, “I can help too.”

Rhett smiles a little. “Yeah?”

Nicolas nods. “Of course.”

“Thanks,” Rhett says, pushing back from the table, “Now I’ve got to go before school gets out. Fallon will kill me if leave her alone with all the kids when they come in.”

As soon as he’s gone, Nicolas says, “So- “ He waves his hand between the two of them. “How long have you all been trying to teach him Spanish?”

Pablo rocks back in his chair and says, “Don’t ask.”

“That bad?” Nicolas says, glancing at Minnie. She nods and takes another bite of her cookie.

“Also,” Pablo says, “It’s mostly just me now. Minnie isn’t allowed to anymore.” Minnie glares at Pablo because he’s not supposed to mention that. No one is supposed to mention that.

Nicolas’ eyes go wide. “Really? Why not?”

“Uh,” Minnie says, shifting in her chair, “There was maybe, this one time, some yelling and uh, stuff and- ”

“Now she’s not allowed,” Pablo finishes. He’s smiling the bastard.

She glares at him again, because he deserves it, and shoves the rest of her cookie in her mouth. She stands up and grabs her mug. “I have to- “ she says around her mouthful of cookie, “I better- “ because Nicolas’ looking at her like she’s a puzzle he wants to solve and she doesn’t know what to make of that. She rinses her coffee mug, drops it in the dish drainer, and flees.

******

On Tuesday morning, when Minnie goes into the Children’s Room, Gordon’s nowhere in sight. It takes her a minute to remember that, at this time, he’s in story time. Nicolas’ at the desk helping a little, dark haired girl who looks maybe four or five. When he sees Minnie, he smiles and waves enthusiastically. Her arms are full of books so she just nods and smiles.

She goes around the desk and into the little office behind the desk. It’s a perpetual mess, books, puppets, puzzles and craft supplies always all over the place. The walls are plastered with children’s art projects, faded photographs, old program flyers, and a large, tattered strip of paper that says rule #1 don’t name the fish. Minnie doesn’t understand how anyone works in here. She’d told Gordon that once and he’d laughed and said that no one ever stayed in it long enough to work. There’s no room on the desk that’s nominally Gordon’s. She’s about the plunk the books on the chair instead but there’s a monkey puppet missing an eye and both its ears sitting on it. She shifts the books onto her hip and attempts to make room on the desk. She knocks over a few things, a duckling puppet and a half empty bag of cotton balls, but she manages to make room for the books. She picks up the duckling and nestles it in with the monkey on the chair. She shoves the cotton balls onto the shelf above the desk.

When she comes out of the office, Nicolas is still with the little girl from before. He’s offering her a sticker which she takes with a delighted smile. Minnie waits so she can tell him about the books. Nicolas turns towards her and smiles. “Ah,” he says, “Hello, Miss Minnie, how are you?”

“I, ah, I’m fine. How’re you?”

“I’m very good,” he says. He’s still smiling. “Just helping Rosa here get her very first library card.”

The girl, Rosa, nods and giggles a little. She holds out her sticker and says, “Mr. Nicolas gave me a sticker.”

“It’s, ah,” Minnie manages, “It’s very nice.”

Rosa beams up at her. “Yes,” she says, “I’m gonna put it on my shirt.”

“Okay,” Minnie says.

“Do you have a sticker?” Rosa asks, putting her sticker right in the middle of her shirt.

“Ah,” Minnie says, “No, I- ”

Nicolas interrupts, “She should have one, right Rosa? Miss Minnie should have a sticker.”

Rosa considers this for a moment then nods decisively. “Yes.”

“No, I- ” Minnie starts to say but Nicolas smiles mischievously, peels off a sticker, and sticks it on her sweater before she can finish.

“There,” he says, “Looks very nice. Right, Rosa?”

Rosa nods. Nicolas’ fingers are still pressed to the sticker. “I- ” Minnie says, “Sure, it’s- ” Nicolas smoothes his fingers down the sticker and his thumb catches the edge of her v-neck and slides along her skin. She steps back. “It’s very nice, “ she says, “But I’ve-  I’ve got to get back,” and flees.

She’s halfway back to tech services before she realizes she forgot to tell him about the books.

When she walks back into tech services, Fiona looks up, smirks, and says, “Nice sticker.”

“Shut up,” Minnie snaps. She reaches up. She’s going to pull the sticker off. Really. Except she doesn’t. Because, when she touches it, all she can think about Nicolas’ thumb sliding along her skin. She drops her hand, like the sticker’s on fire, and plunks down hard into her desk chair.

She rubs her hands on her thighs. She has to let Nicolas know about the books so he can tell Gordon. She’d really, right now, rather do anything else. She picks up the phone anyway and dials the extension for the Children’s Room. Nicolas answers after two rings, “City Library, Children’s Room, Nicolas speaking, can I help you?”

“It’s, uh, it’s Minnie,” she says.

“Hi, Minnie,” Nicolas says, he sounds delighted, “What can I do for you?”

“Uh, can you tell Gordon that the books I left are the ones he wanted done first so he could use them for story time.”

“Sure,” Nicolas says, “Of course, of course.”

“Thanks,” she says, “Bye,” and hangs up before Nicolas can say anything else.

“Weren’t you just- ” Fiona says.

“Shut up,” Minnie says without looking up.

******

When the door from the hall opens, Minnie looks up expecting to see Ina, back from teaching her class, or Fiona back from helping Fallon with her reorganization project, but it’s Mason who walks in. He’s wearing a suit, which means he has some kind of meeting today. An important one. He smiles and says, “Hey, Minnie, you got a minute”

She swivels her chair around so she can look at him without craning her neck. “Sure, Mason, what do you need?”

He leans against the wall next to the door. “Just to talk about a few things.”

“Okay,” Minnie says and waits.

“So,” he says, “Ina convinced me that we should hire someone to help with book repair.”

Minnie lifts her eyebrows. “Really?”

Mason shrugs and smiles a little. “She, uh, she wrote a memo.”

Minnie opens her mouth. Closes it. That does not sound like Ina. “Ina,” she says slowly, “wrote a memo?”

Mason presses his lips together, like he’s trying not to smile. He nods. “Yeah, she did. The board thought it was very convincing.”

“Huh,” Minnie says, she really did not see that coming, “Okay.”

“I found a guy,” Mason says, “The board only approved six hours a week but the guy’s okay with it as long as we can be flexible about the hours, which we can.” By which, Mason means, Minnie can, because this guy, whoever he is, will undoubtedly be her responsibility.

“Okay,” she says, “Sure. When’s he starting?”

“Next week,” Mason says, “Wednesday at three. That okay? I told him he could work out the details of his schedule with you.”

“Fine, fine,” Minnie says, “You going to tell me his name or what?”

“Uh,” Mason says, “Colby Rogan. He works at the university doing book restoration and he’s just looking to pick up some extra hours somewhere.”

“Okay,” Minnie says. At least it sounds like this guy – Colby – knows what he’s doing. “Sounds good.”

She waits for Mason to say something else or say goodbye or something but he just studies her for a moment. “So,” he says finally, “How’s Fiona doing?”

“All right,” Minnie says. And it’s even mostly true. She doesn’t know a lot of the things she should know to work in a public library but she’s a quick study. But Minnie still adds, mostly because she’s still annoyed that instead of a cataloger with appropriate experience she has Fiona, who requires more training than she had anticipated having to provide, “For someone who spent the last four years working in an art school archive.”

“Would you believe,” Mason says, “That there’s a shortage of catalogers?”

Minnie actually might because if she had a dollar for every librarian she’s met who said oh, you’re a cataloger, really? I could never do that or some variation of it she’d be in slightly less student debt. But it’s still bullshit. She narrows her eyes. “Everyone more qualified wanted more than you were willing to pay.”

Mason shrugs but doesn’t answer which means she’s right. “Whatever,” she says, ”Fiona’ll be okay. She learns pretty quickly.”

Mason smiles a little. “With you teaching her, I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

The compliment does not really mollify Minnie but she smiles anyway and says, “Yeah. Yeah. Anything else you need?”

“Actually,” Mason says, “Taylor and I were talking and he wanted me to ask if you’d be willing to train someone from Children’s Services so they could do some of the cataloging for the children’s materials.”

That really sounds like the last thing Minnie wants to do right now. She’s still working on making Fiona into a useful cataloger. “They’re tired of waiting for their books, huh?”

Mason smiles a little. “Maybe. You willing to do it?”

Minnie scrubs her hand through her hair. “Who does Taylor actually want me to train?”

Mason shrugs. “I’m not sure. If you’re willing to do it, email him or whatever and set something up.”

She’ll probably regret it but she says, “I might not be able to do it right away, but okay.”

“Whatever works for you,” Mason says, “I told Taylor it could only happen if you were willing and had the time. He said that was fine.”

Before Minnie can reply, the door opens, and Nandra sticks her head in. “Hey, Minnie.”

Minnie waves. “Hey, Nandra.”

Nandra flashes her a bright smile then turns to Mason and says, “C’mon. We’re going to be late. If we’re late, Patrice will kill us.”

Well, that explains Mason’s suit. Patrice, the formidable chairwoman of the Friends of Library, is a stickler about certain things.

“Right,” Mason says, “We wouldn’t want that. See you later, Minnie.”

“All right,” Minnie says, “See you.”

Nandra waves and then both of them are gone.

Minnie goes ahead and emails Taylor, because, if she waits, she’ll get distracted by her mountain of work and forget. He emails her right back, which means he’s sitting at the desk. His response contains a truly unnecessary number of explanation points and emojis. What it doesn’t contain, is the name of the person he wants her to train. So she emails him back. The email she gets back is one word long. Nicolas. Minnie stares at the email for a long time before finally sending back Okay. I’ll work out the details with him.. The YAY!!!! Taylor sends back most certainly does not merit a response. She closes her email with hard (but satisfying) tap to her keyboard and goes back to work.

******

The book restoration guy, Colby, might be the tallest person Minnie’s ever met. Even once she gets up from her desk to shake his hand and introduce herself, she still has to tip her head almost all the way back to look up at him. He smiles a little sheepishly, like this happens to him a lot. “Nice to meet you,” he says, and, after the handshake, he steps back a little. And that’s nice because then she doesn’t have to crane her neck quite so much.

“Nice to meet you too,” she says.

They go over his schedule and a few other things then she introduces him to Ina and hopes he doesn’t run for the hills as soon as he sees the mess Ina’s managed to make of what, when Shay was here, was a well-organized, well-stocked book repair desk.

It turns out, she should’ve worried more about just how well the two of them would hit it off. Because, it turns out, they get along like a tall, very giggly, house on fire.

Minnie likes quiet. Especially when she works. Maybe that makes her a big, fat librarian cliché but she doesn’t care. She’s adapted (mostly) to Ina and Ina to her (Ina wears her headphones a lot while she works). And she knows they have to talk so Ina can bring Colby up to speed and show him around but they’re too loud and giggly and she can’t concentrate. So, instead of emailing Gordon about the stack of books she’s collected for him, she decides to go across the hall and just tell him.

She slips across the hall, dodging two middle-schoolers arguing about something, basketball, maybe, and goes into the children’s room. It’s packed. Taylor’s helping a mother and child in the picture book stacks and Nicolas’ at the desk but she doesn’t see Gordon.

She goes over to the desk. Nicolas flashes her a smile then goes back to checking out a truly impressive stack of Who Was? books to a boy in a Spiderman shirt. Minnie leans against the corner of the desk and waits while Nicolas prints out the due date receipt, tucks it into the top book, and hands the stack to the boy. “Enjoy, okay?” he says. The boy smiles shyly then clutches the books to his chest and walks away. He has to actually tuck his chin on top of the stack to keep the books from falling.

“Was that,” Minnie says, “Like your entire biography section.”

Nicolas laughs. “Maybe half,” he says, “Kids love those books. It’s amazing.” He leans back in his chair and smiles up at her so brightly she almost wants to look away because it’s a little like looking straight into the sun. “So, Miss Minnie,” he says, “What can I do for you?” 

“I, uh,” she says, “was actually looking for Gordon.”

He pouts exaggeratedly . “I see how it is,” he says, “Gordon gets visits but I only get emails.”

It flusters her because does that mean he wants her to visit him or is it just teasing? She can’t tell and it bothers her. “Uh,” she says, she’s blushing and she hates that, “I-  Ina and the new guy, they’re just-  They’re being really loud right now and I uh…” She trails off because the more she talks the stupider it sounds.

Nicolas lifts his eyebrows. “You came to the Children’s Room, during after-school hours, to find some peace and quiet?”

Minnie winces. “Yeah.”

Nicolas laughs. “Miss Minnie, what were you thinking?”

“Obviously,” she says, “I wasn’t.”

Nicolas smiles. “I’m glad you weren’t. It is nice to see you. Even if I can’t offer you peace and quiet.”

And she’s back to being flustered. “Uh, it’s okay, I guess. But, uh, do you actually know where Gordon is?”

“He’s in the program room setting up his DJ equipment for the program he and Micah are doing later this afternoon.”

“Oh,” she says, “Right. He volunteered to like, teach them DJing or whatever, didn’t he?”

Nicolas nods. “Yup. Did you need him, though? Because I’m sure if you interrupted it’d be fine.”

She shakes her head. “Nah. Not really. I just wanted to let him know that I have a bunch of discards that might work for the book art program he and Fallon are trying to put together.”

“You want me to tell him when he’s done?”

“Would you?” she says, “And tell him I’m not hauling them over here for him. He has to come to Tech Services to look at them.”

“Will do,” he says, “And I’ll emphasize the no hauling part.”

She smiles a little. “Thanks.”

“It’s no problem,” he says, “Anything for you, Miss Minnie.”

“Right,” she says, “Uh- .” She pauses because what even is she supposed to say to that?. “Thanks. I should- “ she says right as he says “Since you are- “

Then they both stop. She waits for him to finish his sentence but he doesn’t. “Since I am- “ she prompts.

He smiles hopefully. “I was hoping we can set up a time for you to start showing me some cataloging.”

“Uh,” she says as she mentally tallies what she has to get done this week and early next week, “Next Wednesday maybe? Whatever time works for you?”

“Okay,” he says, and he sounds really excited, which, honestly, most people don’t get about cataloging, but okay, “Maybe in the afternoon, after lunch? I have story time in the morning.”

“Sure,” she says.

“It’s a date,” he says.

And, okay, she really, really has to go now. Right now. “Uh, yeah, I’ve gotta- ” she says, and just turns around and leaves.

“Bye, Miss Minnie,” he calls after her. She waves but she doesn’t turn around. Or stop.

******

Minnie puts Nicolas on her calendar for Wednesday afternoon. However, when Wednesday actually arrives, she gets caught up in some unexpected work, which she dives right back into after lunch, and forgets about Nicolas until he shows up, knocks on her desk, and says, “Hey.”

She jolts upright. “Shit, Nicolas, I forgot about- “

His face falls. “Oh.” He waves his hand at the piles strewn across her desk. “Uh, do we need to reschedule.”

She’s kind of tempted to say yes but she doesn’t. She hates to back out of things she’s committed to. “No,” she says, pushing her piles together to make room on her desk, “It’s fine. I just- “She pushes back from her desk and stands up. “I’ll find a chair and the books I was saving for this. Just- just hold on.”

Nicolas smiles. “Take your time, Miss Minnie, I’m not going anywhere.”

She really has to ask him to stop calling her that, like now, especially because over his shoulder she can see Ina mouthing Miss Minnie and smiling in way which means nothing but very bad things for Minnie.

She doesn’t. Instead she says, “Right, I’ll just- “

Usually there’s a spare chair either pushed up against her desk or Ina’s desk but she doesn’t see it. “Where’s the chair that’s usually- “ she gestures between the desks.

Ina smirks. “Haven’t seen it.” She pauses. “Miss Minnie.” If Nicolas weren’t standing right there, Minnie would kick her. Hard. And Ina knows it. Ina smiles. “Ask Fiona.”

Minnie looks over at Fiona. “Uh,” Fiona says, “I might- “ She gets up from her desk. “Yup,” she says, reaching behind her and grabbing at stack of books, which she drops onto her desk carelessly enough to make Minnie flinch, “I took it yesterday because I ran out of room my desk.” She brings the chair over and plunks it down next to Minnie’s desk.

“Thanks,” Minnie says. She turns to Nicolas. “Uh, just sit down somewhere where you can see the computer, okay? I’m going to get some books.”

Nicolas nods. “Okay.”

When she comes back with the books, Nicolas’ sitting at her desk. He’s put the chair a little closer to her chair than she would’ve. She puts the books on her desk and doesn’t think about what that means (if it means anything). She pulls her chair out and sits down. She turns a little so she can look at him and their knees nudge together. “Uh,” she says, “So, have you ever done any cataloging before?” She tries very hard to not make it sound like an accusation. She’s not really sure she succeeds.

Nicolas nods. “I have.”

“Really?” She says, which, okay, probably wasn’t the best response.

Nicolas smiles a little. “Yes, really. My last job was at a really small library. I did everything for children’s services including cataloging. It’s why Taylor asked me to- “ He waves his hand between them. “You know.”

“Okay,” she says, she remains skeptical but that does sound almost promising, “Which ILS were you guys using?”

“Polaris,” he says, “Just like we do here. But- ” Of course there’s a but. Minnie should’ve known. There’s always a but. “We were part of a consortium so what I did was mostly linking.”

“Right,” she says, “Well, at least you’re familiar with the system. That’s-  Well. That’s something.” She’s trying to be encouraging but, well, she mostly sucks at that sort of thing, and his face falls a little.

They start at the beginning with the basics. Nicolas’ an attentive listener and he asks decent, actually relevant, questions. He also touches her every time he wants her attention. He taps her knee or touches her wrist. It’s-  It’s distracting. It really it shouldn’t be but it is.

Eventually, they swap places and she has him try cataloging an item on his own. He only has to ask her one question and, when he’s done, he turns to her and smiles brilliantly. He looks so pleased with himself and she wants to- 

“Well,” she says, “That wasn’t terrible.”

He slumps a little. “Uh,” he says, “Okay?”

Ina calls out. “From Minnie that’s actually like a huge compliment.”

Nicolas perks right back up. He looks over at Ina and Fiona who’s standing by Ina’s desk. “Really?” he says.

Ina nods. Fiona shrugs and says, “I wouldn’t know. Minnie’s never complimented me.”

Minnie narrows her eyes. “I’ll compliment you when you deserve to be complimented.” Fiona rolls her eyes.

Nicolas leans into her. “So,” he says, “You were complimenting me.”

Minnie picks up the new Mo Willems and holds it out to him. “Maybe,” she says, “Do this one right and we’ll see.”

He does it perfectly and doesn’t have to ask her any questions. Then he turns to her, smiles, and says, “Well?”

She tries not to smile but she can’t help herself. “That was okay,” she says.

He raises his eyebrows and opens his mouth, all faux-shock, and says, “Miss Minnie, that was more than okay and you know it. You’re even smiling.” She presses her lips together. He laughs a little. “I saw it, you can’t take it back now.”

She rolls her eyes- which is probably futile since she’s blushing– and pushes the remaining books towards him. “Let’s see how you do with the rest.”

He only makes one small mistake, which he corrects himself before she has to say anything, while he’s working on the three remaining books.

When he’s done, he nudges her with his elbow and says, “So Miss Minnie, was that just okay or- “

She shrugs. “That wasn’t bad.”

He laughs and rocks back in his chair. He points at her. “Someday, Miss Minnie, you are going to give me a real compliment.”

“Maybe,” she says and it takes all the discipline she has to keep a straight face and not smile at him.

He laughs some more and shakes his head. “You’ll see, you will,” he says, “But for now, what next?”

“Uh,” she says, “Nothing, for now.” She half-wants to keep him here longer but she really has other things to do. “I was thinking, maybe, next week I could show you the processing side.”

He looks a little disappointed. “Right,” he says, “Okay. Next week then. What day works for you?”

“Um, I was thinking Wednesday after lunch again.”

He nods. “Okay,” he says. He pushes back from the desk and stands up. He squeezes her shoulder. “It’s a date.”

She really, really wishes he hadn’t said that where Ina can hear him. “Right,” she says, “Sure.”

As soon as he’s gone, Ina says, “So, it’s a date, is it?”

Minnie glares. “Shut up.”

Ina just laughs. “Whatever you say, Miss Minnie.”

“Do not,” Minnie says, “Seriously. I will murder you and stash your body in that corner of the local history room that not even Pablo will go into.”

Ina rolls her eyes. “Fine. Fine. Whatever.”

******

On Friday morning, when Minnie goes to the staff room in search of coffee, she finds Nicolas sitting at the table, fiddling with his travel mug. It has a huge, faded sticker of his country flag on one side and he’s tracing his finger around the sun in the middle.

He looks up when she comes in and smiles. It’s a tired looking smile. It’s not at all like he usually smiles at her. “Hey, Minnie.” He sounds almost sad. Also he doesn’t call her Miss Minnie. It’s-  It’s concerning.

“Are you,” she says, “all right?”

He shrugs. “I’m fine.” He really doesn’t sound it.

“Are you sure?”

He studies her for a moment then ducks his head and says, “It’s silly. I- ” He shrugs again. “I’m fine,” he says and slumps down in the chair.

She’s not sure what to say or what to do. She’s never been good in these sorts of situations. She wants to do something, though, because it seems wrong for Nicolas, who’s almost perpetually cheerful, to be like this. She steps forward and tentatively rests her hand on his shoulder. “I- I’m sure it’s not silly, whatever it is.”

He looks up at her and smiles a little. “You say this now but when I tell you, you will laugh.”

“I won’t,” she says, “Promise.”

He turns towards her and says, “One of the fish – it died.”

And, okay, she can see why he thought she might laugh. “Okay,” she says slowly, “I’m sorry?”

He laughs a little. “See,” he says, “Silly.”

“Ah,” she says, not sure whether or not she should agree with him.

He keeps going. “If it was only that, it would be okay, but, Luca, he is maybe three, he saw the fish, you know, on the bottom of the tank and he thought the fish was asleep. He was standing, you know, by the tank, waiting for the fish to wake up. He didn’t want to leave the library and his mother and I, we were trying to get him to leave but he wouldn’t. Then he started wondering if something was wrong with the fish and he was saying he wanted to stay and take care of it and he just wouldn’t leave. No matter what me or his mom said. Then he started asking if the fish was dead and- ” He stops.

She’s not sure if he’s done, or if she should say something. She settles for patting his shoulder. “He got,” he continues, “very upset, Luca I mean, even though we told him the fish wasn’t dead. His mom, she, ah, she finally carried him out but he- he was crying and-  It was- ” She makes to pat his shoulder again only it ends up more of a slow stroke along his back. He makes a low, soft sound so she does it again. He looks up at her and says, “Just, it wasn’t good, you know?”

She still not sure what to say, so she keeps rubbing his back and murmurs, “Sorry, it, uh, sounds bad.” She feels like she should say something else, do something else but she doesn’t know what. She settles on saying, “I, uh, I was going to make some coffee do-  do you want some?”

She feels stupid as soon as she says it because he clearly already has coffee but he says, “Okay. That’d be nice.” He pauses then adds, “And, uh, Minnie, thanks, you know, for not laughing.”

She squeezes his shoulder. “It, uh, I don’t think you were being silly. It sounded bad, you know, I can see why you’d, you know…”

He smiles, closer to his normal smile this time, and says, “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she says. She squeezes his shoulder then goes to make coffee.

When she brings Nicolas his cup of coffee, he smiles and it’s one of his usual, brilliant smiles.

She takes a sip of her coffee and pretends it’s the coffee making her feel warm all over not the pleasure of being the one to make him smile that way.

******

When Nicolas shows up for his second cataloging lesson, Minnie’s rubbing her hands up and down her arms wishing for, like, the tenth time that day, that she’d remembered to bring a sweater in with her today.

Nicolas touches her shoulder. “Hey,” he says, “Are you all right?”

Minnie drops her hands onto her desk. “Fine. Just-  Just a little cold. I forgot my sweater.”

His eyes widen, like her being a little chilly is some kind of great tragedy. “Here,” he says, and he starts shrugging out of his sweater, “Take mine.”

“No. Nicolas. It’s- “ She says but he’s already draped his sweater over her shoulders. It’s warm and soft and smells faintly of his cologne. “You don’t have to,” she says, “Really. I’ll be fine.”

Nicolas pokes her shoulder. “Put it on, Miss Minnie.”

She puts on the sweater. It’s gray and slouchy and she has to push the sleeves up because otherwise they cover her hands. And it’s so warm. She wants to wrap herself up in it and never, ever give it back

Nicolas grabs the spare chair from its spot next to Minnie’s desk. Minnie scoots over so he can put it down next to her. Nicolas sits down and says, “Are you warmer now?”

“Yes,” she says, “Thank you.”

“Good,” he says, smiling, “Now. Explain to me all these stickers and things that we put on our materials. Because, I think, maybe, there are about a million different ones.”

“There aren’t a million,” she says. She pauses. “Uh, I have a chart, though? With details about what goes with what.”

Nicolas laughs a little. “Of course you have a chart.”

She narrows her eyes. “Are you laughing at my chart? I was going to share it with you on Google Drive but maybe not if you’re laughing at it.”

The wounded, puppy dog expression he gives her is the most bullshit she’s seen in awhile. “I’m sorry,” he says, with exaggerated contrition, “I would never. Please share your chart with me, Miss Minnie.”

She smiles despite herself. “I suppose I will. Since you’re sorry and all.”

He smiles. “Thank you. Now what?”

“Now,” she says, pushing the books she’d saved for today towards him, “we make sure you haven’t forgotten everything I showed you last time.”

He hasn’t forgotten everything or, really, anything. He only asks her two questions. And once they move on to processing the books, he picks that up almost right away. She’s not that surprised. Processing is the easy part.

They’re finishing up when Ina comes in, flops down at her desk, and says, “Hey, Minnie, nice sweater.”

Minnie glares at her. “It’s not,” she says, “mine,” even though Ina already knows that, “It’s Nicolas’.”

Ina lifts her eyebrows, like she’s just shocked. Minnie’s glad Nicolas’ concentrating on the book he’s working on and not looking at Ina.

“Well,” Ina says, “I like your sweater, Nicolas.”

Nicolas looks up from lining an Easter sticker up above the call number tag on Fancy Nancy and the Missing Easter Bunny. “Uh,” he says, “Thanks?”

Ina smiles. “You’re welcome.”

When they’re done, Minnie tries to give Nicolas his sweater back. He puts his hand on her arm and says, “Will you be cold without it?”

“No,” she says.

But she must have hesitated too long before saying it because Nicolas narrows his eyes and says, “Liar.” He squeezes her arm. “Keep it for now. Bring it back to me later.” Then he’s gone before she can protest further.

Ina smirks at her. “Awww, wasn’t that sweet?” she says.

“Shut up,” Minnie snaps.

******

A little before five, Minnie goes to return Nicolas’ sweater. As soon as she steps into the hall, she can hear raised voices. Specifically Gordon’s, Taylor’s, and Nicolas’ raised voices. It takes her a second to work out what they’re arguing about but once she does she hustles across the hall into the Children’s Room.

Nicolas’ behind the desk, emphasizing the point he’s currently making with some very enthusiastic hand gestures, Taylor’s perched on the corner of the desk, and Gordon’s standing behind the desk, nodding along with what Nicolas’ saying. They all turn toward her when she walks in, which, okay, is kind of creepy. “You are being so loud,” she says, “that I could hear you in the hall.” They all slump a little, like chastened puppies. “Also,” she says, since now she has their cowed attention, “There is no way we are discussing going non-Dewey in the Children’s Room right now. Like, no way. Do you know how much work that’d be? Maybe- “ Nicolas and Gordon both perk up a little. She narrows her eyes and says, as repressively as she can, “Maybe once Fallon’s done with her big reorganization project upstairs. Maybe.”

She gets a couple mumbled, okay, Minnie’s. She smiles a little. “It’s not,” she says, because Nicolas and Gordon look a little like sad, kicked puppies, “necessarily a bad idea, okay? Just- Just not right now.”

Taylor smiles and says, “All right, Minnie. Anyway, I don’t know what, if anything, we actually want to do.” Gordon and Nicolas both open their mouths, like they want to start the argument back up again. But Taylor waves his hand at them. “Yeah. Yeah. I know, I know. You think it’ll make our collection so much more kid friendly, so much more intuitive to use, blah, blah, blah. You heard Minnie, enough for now.” Gordon and Nicolas both close their mouths. Taylor hops down off the desk. “I have to get going. Gordon, don’t forget, tonight that teacher from the Bell Academy is coming to pick up the completed cards for her class.”

Gordon nods. “Yup. I’ve got them in the drawer, all ready to go.”

Taylor smiles. “Good. Good. See you tomorrow, ‘kay?”

Once Taylor’s gone, Minnie turns to Gordon and Nicolas and says, “Is it me, or is he in a hurry?”

Gordon and Nicolas both smile widely and say, in unison, “Hot date.”

“Well,” Gordon adds, “We think, at least. He’s not admitting anything.”

“Huh,” Minnie says, “Interesting.”

Gordon grins and says, “Isn’t it?” He pauses then says, “Hey, Minnie, do you really think going non-Dewey for the children’s collection isn’t a bad idea?”

She shrugs. “It’s not without its merits. But I am not getting involved in your quest to convince Taylor. That’s on you.” She glances at Nicolas. “And now Nicolas I guess?” Because she’s pretty sure Nicolas’ on Gordon’s side here.

Nicolas nods. “Yup.”

“Well,” she says, “Good luck.”

They both smile. “We’ve almost got him,” Gordon says, “At least I’m pretty sure.”

“Okay,” she says, “Just remember- “

“Not right now,” Nicolas interrupts, “Because you are very busy.”

She points at him. “Exactly.” She pauses. “I, uh, so- “ She comes over to the desk. She very deliberately doesn’t look at Gordon and just focuses on Nicolas. She hands him his sweater. “Thanks, uh, again. It was really-  Thanks.”

He smiles, pleased and warm, “You’re quite welcome, Miss Minnie.” Gordon makes a choked sound that might’ve been a laugh. Minnie definitely does not look over and glare at him. But she really wants to.

“I’ll see you,” she says backing away from the desk, “Uh, tomorrow.”

Nicolas waves. “All right. Goodnight, Miss Minnie.”

“Yeah,” Gordon says, and he sounds like he’s trying not to laugh, “Goodnight, Miss Minnie.”

Minnie does not wave at either of them. She just turns on her heel and goes.

******

On Tuesday, just after Minnie gets back from lunch and before she can sit down at her desk, Taylor bursts through the door and says, “Minnie, oh, thank God, you’re here.” He comes over and grabs her wrist. “You have to come with me. I need your help.” He actually starts tugging her towards the door.

Minnie digs in her heels. She does not ever care to be dragged anywhere. She regularly pinches Ina when Ina tries it. “Slow down,” she says, “And explain what exactly you need my help with.”

Taylor keeps tugging. She kicks his shin. “Ow, hey, not cool,” Taylor says and drops her wrist.

“Stop trying to drag me wherever,” Minnie says, “And explain.”

Taylor slumps a little. “So, uh, bilingual story time starts in- “ He glances at his watch. “Ten minutes. And Nicolas, he went to a Summer Reading workshop this morning and, we thought he’d be back in time, but there was an accident or some shit, and he’s stuck in traffic. He’s not going to make it. So- “ He reaches out like he’s going to grab her wrist again.

She takes a step back. “Okay,” she says, “No. Absolutely not. I have not done story time since my internship in library school.”

Taylor shrugs. “It’ll be fine. You’ll just follow along with me and read Nicolas’ bits from the parent sheets we give out. Also the stories he picked out for this week aren’t that involved. You’ll be fine.”

She takes another step back. “I will be fine,” she says, crossing her arms, “Because I’m not going to be doing it. Go get Pablo. He likes story time.”

“I already tried Pablo,” Taylor says, “It’s just him and that new girl, uh, Joanna, I think, at the desk right now, and he doesn’t trust her to be alone at the desk just yet.”

She narrows her eyes. “Where are Kevin, Kamil, and Leroy?”

Taylor waves his hand. “It’s Tuesday, Kamil has class so he leaves early and Kevin’s at the Senior Center doing the pop-up branch thing.”

“And Leroy?” Minnie says.

“Has some kind of death cold. Pablo sent him home early yesterday and told him not to come back in until he didn’t need a tissue every five seconds.” He reaches out and grabs her wrist. “So come on, Minnie. Otherwise I’m going to have crying children and upset parents and no one wants that.”

It’s a valid point. She shakes off his hand. “Fine,” she says, “But there’s no need drag me. I’m coming.”

Taylor rolls his eyes, like he knows that the whole no need to drag me thing is pretty much bullshit. “Then come, on. Or we’ll be late.” And, well, Minnie hates to be late, even to things she doesn’t want to do.

“Just,” Taylor says, as he reaches for the door to the program room, “Translate everything I say, read the Spanish bits on the sheet, and read whatever books I hand you.” He pauses. “Uh, we’ll skip anything that involves singing because I’ve heard you sing and- “He shakes his head and makes a face. “No. Just-  No. Oh, and don’t forget to actually introduce the books before you read them, okay?”

“Okay, okay,” she says, “Let’s just- “ but he’s already opening the door and pulling her inside so she snaps her mouth shut.

There are a lot of people in the program room. And most of them are staring at her and Taylor. This is why she doesn’t like story time (or any kind of programming really) there are always so many people looking at you all at once. That’s pretty much one of her least favorite things, being in front of large groups of people, being stared at.

Taylor pulls her towards the front of the room. “Hi everyone,” he says brightly, waving the crowd, “Welcome to story time. Unfortunately Mr. Nicolas can’t join us today so Miss Minnie is going to help us.” He pauses. And there’s just quiet for a moment and a lot of confused children blinking up at them. Then Taylor elbows her and hisses, “Minnie, c’mon.”

Right. She’s supposed to be translating. “Hi, everyone,” she begins, “Welcome to story time. Unfortunately Mr. Nicolas can’t join us today so– “ She pauses. “Uh, so I’m going to help out for today. My name is Miss Minnie.”

After that, well, things don’t go too horribly. No one cries. She only forgets to introduce one book. Taylor carries her through it, his relentless enthusiasm covering up her stumbles.

Nicolas comes in as they’re winding down, alternating lines of their goodbye rhyme. He leans against the wall in the back and flashes her a wide smile and gives her a thumbs up.

Once they’re done, Nicolas’ mobbed by kids. He’s good with them. Patient. Lets each child have their turn talking to him. She helps Taylor clean up and tries not to stare at him too much.

“Well,” Taylor says, after they’ve stashed away the last puppet, “You weren’t terrible.”

Minnie narrows her eyes and kicks his foot. “I think what you meant to say is thank you so much Minnie for helping me.”

Taylor rolls his eyes but he smiles a little and says, “Thanks so- “

Nicolas bounds up to them and cuts Taylor off. “Miss Minnie,” he says, smiling widely, “You were so great.”

She can feel her face heat. “You’re such a liar,” she says.

He shrugs. “Me,” he says, eyes wide, expression all faux-shock, “I would never.” He pauses then says, “But, seriously, thank you so much for helping out. I owe you big time. Can I- “ He bites his lip and looks away for a second then he looks back at her. “Uh, can I buy you lunch or something? To say thank you.”

Taylor makes short, choked sound and says, “I’m just- “

Minnie ignores Taylor. “I, uh,” she stammers, “Already ate lunch today.”

His face falls for a second then he says, “What about tomorrow?”

She should say no. Really she should. “Uh, sure,” she says, “Yeah. Okay.”

His smile is blinding and he actually bounces when he says, “All right, awesome. You want to go to Felix’s or-  I mean, you’ve been to Felix’s right?”

It’s impossible not to smile back at him. “Uh, yeah, I’ve been and Felix’s is fine.”

******

The next day, when it’s time for lunch, Minnie grabs her purse and her sweater and says to Ina, without looking at her, “Uh, I’m-  I’m going out for lunch today. Just-  If you need me call or whatever.”

“That’s right,” Ina drawls, and Minnie can hear Fiona unsuccessfully smothering giggles, “You have a- “

Minnie cuts her off, “See you later, Ina,” and flees.

Nicolas’ waiting for her in the hall. He smiles and says, “Are you ready?”

She shrugs her sweater on. “Yeah,” she says, “Let’s go.”

The walk to Felix’s is short and they don’t talk much on the way over. Nicolas stays close enough to her that their shoulders bump periodically as they walk.

When they get to Felix’s, Nicolas holds the door open for her and puts his hand on the small of her back to guide her through the door.

Felix’s is small and crammed full with beat-up wood tables and miss-matched chairs with varying amounts of different colored paints left on them. The main wall is mostly taken up by a giant TV which is almost always showing some soccer game or another, usually in Spanish- she and Pablo watched some of the last two World Cups here. The rest of the walls are covered in an eclectic mix of pictures, framed jerseys, scarves, and pennants. Relics of Felix’s soccer career.

There’s no hostess or anything, it’s not that kind of place, you just grab a table and someone from the kitchen (sometimes Felix himself) comes to take your order.

“So they know your name,” Nicolas says, once they’ve sat down and ordered, “You’ve been here a lot, huh?”

Minnie shrugs. “Enough. Pablo likes coming here to watch games and sometimes I come with him.”

He nods. “He brought me here right after I started, said it was the best place around and that the food was really authentic.”

She smiles. “He would know. I just know it’s really good.”

He nods fervently. “So good.”

There’s an awkward lull in conversation after that and she doesn’t know what to say to fill it. She fiddles with her fork. “So,” Nicolas says finally, “You like foot- , uh, soccer?”

“Yeah,” she says, “I, uh, I grew up watching it. My Dad, he’s a big fan.”

“So,” she says, before they can drop into another awkward lull, “Uh, are you a fan?”

The conversation about soccer takes them most of the way through lunch. She learns more about soccer then, maybe, she really ever wanted to know, but it’s no hardship to watch Nicolas talk about it. He’s so happy and animated and it lights him up, makes him impossible to look away from.

When Nicolas pushes his empty plate away, she’s still working on the last of her food. He looks down and fiddles with his crumpled napkin. “Uh,” he says, peeking up at her, “Can I ask you something?”

She straightens up a little. “Sure,” she says, though she’s far from sure where he’s going with this.

“Would you tell me your first name?” he says tentatively, “I mean, I know everyone calls you Minnie, but I just, I wondered…”

She pushes her plate away. “I will, but, uh, that doesn’t mean you can use it.”

He smiles. “I promise,” he says, making the sign of the cross over his chest, “cross my heart and everything.”

“It’s Minette,” she says.

Usually, when she tells men her name, she gets some variation of oh what a pretty name, you should use it or some other stupid shit meant to flatter her. But Nicolas just smiles and says, “Thanks for telling me.”

She doesn’t know how to react. “Uh,” she finally manages, “You’re welcome. Just remember- “

He smiles. “I would never. Remember I crossed my heart and everything.”

“Good,” she says and she can’t stop herself from smiling back at him.

“But,” he says, and she flinches, because she should’ve known there would be a but, there always is, “I was wondering, uh, you know, uh, how you started, uh, being Minnie instead of…”

She relaxes a little. “Soccer,” she says, “It’s what all my teammates called me and it just- “ She shrugs. “It stuck. And, uh, I don’t know, I like it better.”

His eyes widen. “You played?” he says and it’s awe in his voice not the stupefied disbelief a lot of guys color the same question with.

She nods. “Yeah. I, uh, kind of still do.”

He leans back in his chair, “Really?”

She shrugs. “Yeah, Ina and I play in this hat league, you know, when the weather’s nice. Ina knows the woman that runs it from, like, her traveling soccer days or something, and she, like, bribes her to always put us on the same team.”

“That’s amazing,” he says, so sincerely she almost wants to look away, “I’d love to see you play.”

She can feel her face heating up. “Uh- ” She should say no. “Okay. I’ll, uh, I’ll try and remember to let you know when our first game is.”

He smiles, wide and happy. “Awesome. I can’t wait.”

And she doesn’t know what to say to that. What to do with him and his genuine awe and enthusiasm. For her. “Uh, yeah, okay. We, uh, we should be getting back.” She reaches into her purse for her wallet.

“None of that,” Nicolas says, “This is a thank you lunch, remember? I’ve got it.”

She wants to argue, on, like, principle or something, but she refrains.

When they part ways in the hall in front of the door to Tech Services, she turns to him, her hand on the doorknob, and says, “Uh, thanks, you know, for lunch. It was, uh, it was nice.”

He smiles brightly. “Thank you for filling in at story time.”

“Uh, it was, you know, no problem.”

He laughs a little. “Liar. But thanks anyway.” He pats her back. “See you later, Miss Minnie.”

When she steps into Tech Services, Fiona and Ina both look up and grin the same predatorily satisfied grin. She holds up her hand before either of them can say anything. “I do not want to hear a single word about it. Not one single word.”

They smirk and say in unison, “Whatever you say, Miss Minnie.”

******

The next day is sunny and bright and warm. The nicest day of the spring so far. Ina insists this calls for a celebration and drags Minnie out at lunch to go get ice cream.

On the way back to the library, Ina jostles into her and says, “So what’s really up with you and Nicolas?”

Minnie elbows her as hard as she can and says, “Nothing. Shut up.”

“Oh?” Ina says, “And why not?”

“Because,” Minnie sighs, “We work together and- ”

“And?” Ina interrupts, “So? You like him and you haven’t been with anyone since you and Jorge broke up.”

“For the last time,” Minnie says, “No, Jorge and I did not break up. We were never together. We were just- ”

“Fucking?”

“Yeah,” Minnie says, scrubbing her hand through her hair, “That.”

Ina’s quiet for a moment then she says, “I still say it was creepy how much he looked like- “

“Ina,” Minnie snaps, because they have a rule. Ina doesn’t say his name unless Minnie says it first. And Minnie doesn’t. Because she doesn’t want to talk about him, about David, anymore. David, who took a job at New York Public Library, then told her I’m going to New York. That was it. I’m going to New York. Not I’m going to New York, do you want to come too?. Just I’m going to New York. And then he was gone.

“Sorry,” Ina says. She bumps gently against Minnie.

Minnie leans into her for second. “It’s okay.”

******

On Monday morning their internet goes down. It takes two increasingly frustrating calls to their provider for it to become clear it’s their network not the provider that’s causing the problem.

Ina spends the whole morning tucked in the closet in the corner of the room that houses all their network equipment cursing progressively louder and more creatively as the morning goes on. She sends Minnie and Fiona all over the building to check this device or that device. Fiona opens her mouth to protest the first time Ina barks out an order but snaps it shut when Minnie jerks her hand across her throat and shakes her head.

It’s still down at lunchtime and the only way Minnie can get Ina to eat is if she stands at the door of the closet and hands Ina pieces of her sandwich.

Almost everyone in the building comes by to ask some variation of how much longer? or is it fixed yet?. Minnie summarily throws all of them out before they can actually ask Ina their questions because Ina is this close to snapping and possibly throwing something at the nearest handy target.

Mason comes by a little after lunch. Minnie considers throwing him out too but that’s probably not the best idea.

Mason smiles a little and says, “You’re thinking about kicking me out too, aren’t you?”

Minnie shrugs. “Maybe.”

Mason holds out his hands in an I come in peace kind of gesture. “I just want to talk to her for a minute.”

“Fine,” Minnie says. She pauses. “She’s probably going to yell. Uh, sorry.”

Mason smiles. “I came expecting yelling. It’s all right.”

It takes approximately two minutes of hushed conversation and increasingly wild hand gestures for Ina to start yelling. “I don’t know when it’ll be up, Mason, but it’s not going to go up any faster with you wasting my time with this fucking pointless conversation.”

Mason leaves right after that. Minnie mouths sorry when he walks past her. He shrugs and leans in to whisper. “Keep an eye on her, huh? And let me know if you need anything because the patrons, hell, the staff is getting antsy in a bad way.”

“I will,” she whispers back, “Just- “ She waves her hand toward the door.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, “I’m going. I’m going.”

Around two or so, Nicolas pokes his head through the door. “Uh,” he says, with a tentative smile, “I come in peace.”

“It’s not up yet,” Minnie says tiredly.

Nicolas slips into the room. “Uh, okay,” he says, “I- “

Minnie narrows her eyes a little. “Did they send you to ask questions because they think I won’t yell at you? Because I will, I mean, yell that is.”

Nicolas smiles sheepishly. “Maybe,” he says, “But, uh, I didn’t actually promise them I’d ask any questions.”

“Okay,” she says, unsure exactly where he’s going with this, “Then what…”

He shrugs. “I, uh, I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do? Anything you all need?”

She’s about to say no but then she has an idea. “You really want to help?”

He nods enthusiastically. “I really do.”

She digs in her desk drawer for her purse. “Come here.” He hurries across the room. She pulls two fives out of her wallet. “Are you willing to run to Starbucks?”

“Sure,” he says, “I could do that. What do you want?”

She hands him the fives and reels off Ina’s favorite, kind of complicated, Starbucks order. He blinks dazedly. “Do you need me to repeat it?” she says.

He shakes his head, like he’s trying to clear it. “Uh, no,” he says. He smiles and repeats the whole thing back to her.

“Great,” she says, “Just, uh, bring me the change or whatever.”

He takes the money and says, “I’ll be right back.”

He’s gone a little longer than she’d thought he’d be but she doesn’t think too much of it because the lines at Starbucks can be unpredictable.

When he does come back, he’s carrying a drinks tray with not one but three drinks in it. She waves her hand at it. “What’s all this?”

He smiles a little. “I, uh, I thought you and Fiona might like something too?”

“Oh,” she says, “Uh- “

“Say thank you, Minnie,” Fiona calls, “And tell him to hand it over because, he’s right, I do want something too.”

Nicolas puts the tray on her desk. “I, uh, got you a latte, ‘cause, um, when you take your time making your coffee you always put a lot of milk in, and I thought…”

She smiles. “Uh, thanks, I, uh, I like lattes.”

He smiles back, brilliant and pleased, and it makes something twist in her chest.

“What about me?” Fiona calls.

“I got you tea. I hope I picked a kind you like. I wasn’t sure what to pick.”

“That’s fine. All their teas are decent enough.”

“So,” Minnie says, “what do I owe you, um, for the rest?”

Nicolas reaches out and pats her arm. “Nothing, okay, Minnie? My treat. Just, uh, tell us in Children’s first when everything’s back up, okay? And we’ll call it even.”

“Uh,” she says, “Okay. Thanks. I- I really appreciate this, like, a lot.”

He smiles and squeezes her arm. “Happy to help.” He lets go of her and walks towards the door. He turns when he gets there and points at her. “Remember. Tell us first.”

“I will. Promise.” He smiles and waves and then he’s gone.

“So,” Fiona says, coming over and picking up her tea, “He knows how you take your coffee, huh?”

“Shut-up,” Minnie says. Fiona smirks and takes a sip of her tea. “Also, you can have that in here just this once, okay?”

Fiona rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Okay.”

Minnie narrows her eyes at Fiona. “I mean it.”

“I know,” Fiona says, “Take Ina her ridiculous iced coffee monstrosity.”

Minnie does and Ina accepts it with an intelligible grunt. Minnie squeezes her shoulder. “How’s it…”

Ina shrugs. “Soon,” she says, between slurps of her drink, “Maybe. I don’t know. Just- “

“Right,” Minnie says and backs away.

Ina finally gets everything up and running a little before four. Minnie calls Children’s first because, well, a promise is a promise.

******

On Friday afternoon Mason sends her an email.

Street Fair Table Sign-ups + Workshop
Mason Co

I signed you up for the 10-12 shift at our table at the Street Fair. (Do not email me back and tell me you can’t do it. You’ve been dodging this for five years. Suck it up.)

Also, Nicolas found a workshop on going non-Dewey. It’s going to be in early June. He wants to go and he suggested it might be helpful if you went as well to provide a cataloger’s view of the information. I’ll let you decide if you want to go. Talk to him about the details.

Mason

P.S. I mean it about the Street Fair. You’re going.

She spends five whole minutes considering and discarding reasons Mason might actually accept for why she really doesn’t need to go to the street fair. Unfortunately she’s already used all the vaguely plausible ones.

Fine, she sends back, I’ll do it. She’s so annoyed she forgets to include anything about the workshop. She should really send another email but she doesn’t. Instead, she gathers up the books she’s just finished for Taylor’s book club and heads across the hall to Children’s.

When she gets to Children’s she finds Nicolas at the desk. He smiles, wide and bright, when he sees her. He’s always smiling at her like that, impossibly bright, like he’s thoroughly delighted to see her. She still hasn’t gotten used to it. “Hey, Miss Minnie,” he says, “Did you come to tell me you’d love to go to that workshop with me?”

She puts Taylor’s book club books down on the desk. “I came to give Taylor his book club books.” Nicolas’ face falls a little. “Uh,” she continues, “Also to tell you, that, yeah, I’d like to come to the workshop with you.”

Nicolas beams. “Awesome. If you want, I’ll register you when I register me.”

“Sure,” she says, “That’d be great.” She pauses. “Uh, where is Taylor, anyway?”

Nicolas gestures toward the other side of the room. “He’s over by the playhouse.”

Minnie turns towards the playhouse. There’s Taylor. He’s having an animated conversation with a tall women with short dark hair who’s wearing a severely tailored probably very expensive suit. There’s something about the way he’s smiling at her. “Who’s he talking to?” she says, turning back towards Nicolas.

“Una and Nicola’s mom,” he says, “Alexis, I think her name is.” He leans closer and lowers his voice. “Also, remember, when you were in here that day and he rushed out in a hurry?”

She nods. “A hot date, right?”

Nicolas smirks. “Me and Gordon are almost sure it was with her. And that now they’re going out.”

“What does Taylor say?”

Nicolas slumps back in his chair and pouts. “Nothing. But he’s like, extra happy all the time now.”

“Huh,” Minnie says, “Well, if you could give him the books, then, whenever he’s done…” She waves her hand in Taylor’s general direction.

Nicolas reaches out and grabs the stack of books. “Sure. I can do that.” He turns and puts them behind him on one of the shelves against the wall behind the desk. He turns back. “Hey, Minnie, uh- “ He pauses then says, all in a rush, “Are you doing any of the shifts at the Street Fair?”

She wrinkles her nose. “Yeah, Mason signed me up for the 10-12 shift.”

“He…signed you up?” Nicolas says tentatively.

Minnie shrugs. “He knows I won’t sign myself up, so…”

“Not your favorite thing, huh?” Nicolas says.

“Not really. I’m a cataloger for a reason. So I can, you know, avoid the public. Also you have to wear the official library t-shirt or whatever.”

Nicolas lifts his eyebrows. “We have t-shirts?”

She nods. “They’re, like, sky blue, they have our name and logo on the front. Patrice, you’ve met Patrice right?”

He nods. “Yeah, uh, she’s kind of…” he trails off.

“Amazing?” Minnie offers.

Nicolas smiles a little. “Oh, definitely. Also kind of terrifying.”

Patrice is, in fact, kind of terrifying. Minnie kind of wants to be her when she grows up. Maybe minus the pristine manicures and expensive skirt suits. She smiles. “Maybe a little.”

Nicolas points at her. “You, Miss Minnie, like that she’s terrifying, don’t you?”

Minnie shrugs. “Maybe.”

Nicolas laughs a little. “You would, wouldn’t you?”

Minnie doesn’t know what to make of that so she just says, “Anyway, she got them for us a few years ago. I’m sure Taylor’ll get you one before the picnic. Uh, if you’re signed up?”

“I am,” he says, “Uh, also for the 10-12 shift?”

“Really?” she says, because that makes going sound actually appealing.

He nods. “Really.”

“That’s, uh, that’s great,” she says.

He smiles. “We’ll have fun, Miss Minnie, you’ll see.”

******

The day of the Street Fair is bright and sunny and warm. Minnie parks her car in the library’s lot then walks the five or so blocks over to the site of the Street Fair. She’s early and they haven’t opened up the street to the public yet. She tells the nearest police officer, who she’s pretty sure is the same officer that brought back their lost book drop, that she’s with the library, and he smiles and says, “Go on through, then, I think you guys are set up on the left side right before the first corner.”

“Thanks,” she says.

“No problem,” he says and moves over so she can walk past him.

Minnie finds the library’s table easily enough, mostly because Nandra’s there, fussing over the placement of literature holders. “Hey,” Minnie says.

Nandra startles and jerks around. She puts her hand to her heart. “Minnie, God, you startled me.” Nandra is not wearing the library shirt. She’s wearing a bright yellow shirt that proclaims, Little Kickers Team Yellow across the front complete with a cartoon picture of a kid kicking a soccer ball.

“I,” Minnie says, “didn’t know you signed up for this shift.”

Nandra waves her hands in a dismissive gesture. “I didn’t. I just came to get you guys all set up.” She gestures at the table behind her. It’s covered in carefully arranged literature holders stuffed with all the library’s program flyers and informational brochures. There’s also re-usable bags with the library’s name and logo (they’re the same sky-blue as the library shirts) and pencils and stickers and lollipops. There’s a banner across the front of the table with the library’s name in big bold type.

“It, uh, looks nice,” Minnie says.

Nandra smiles brightly. “Thanks.” She leans down and fishes a canvas tote bag out from under the table. She hands it to Minnie. “In here is the iPad and all the things you need to give out new cards. There’s supposedly wi-fi but if there isn’t you guys can use the data plan.”

“Okay,” Minnie says, “Sounds good.”

Nandra pats her shoulder. “I know Mason signed up, like against your will or whatever, but it’ll be fun, Minnie, you’ll see.” She points behind the table where there are two giant plastic boxes in between a couple of folding chairs. “There’s extras of everything on the table in the boxes, okay? Now, I’ve got to run. Davi’s got a game and they can hardly play without their coach, can they?”

Minnie smiles a little. “No they can’t, uh, so go on, I can…” She gestures at the table. “You know.” Even though she really does not know.

“Great,” Nandra says and then, with a quick, bright smile and a wave, she’s gone, leaving Minnie standing in front of the table, twisting the straps of the tote bag around her hands, and wondering what the hell to do next.

She starts by actually going around to the other side of the table. She puts the tote bag down on one of the chairs and is saved from deciding what to do next by the arrival of Nicolas.

He’s wearing sunglasses, the library shirt (which looks stupidly good on him even though it never looks good on anyone), and jeans. He stretches his arms wide, smiles, says, “Good morning, Miss Minnie. Are you ready to have some fun?”

She lifts her eyebrows and bites back a smile. “Sure. Yeah. This is going to be super fun.”

He comes around the table and knocks his shoulder against hers. “Somehow,” he says, “I sense you don’t really mean that. But- “ He elbows her gently. “I am going to change your mind. Show you how fun this can be.”

“Uh-huh,” she says, “Sure.”

He gestures at the table. “Did you do all this?”

“Nah,” she says, “Nandra did. There’s, uh, extras of everything in the boxes. And she left us the iPad so we can do new cards and stuff.”

He twists around to look. “Awesome. So cool that Leap lets us do that outside the library.”

That, she’s willing to concede, because she’s the one that argued long and hard for them to actually get Leap. “It is pretty cool.”

“So,” he says, leaning into her, “Is anyone else coming for this shift or is it just you and me?”

She’d never actually seen the sign-up sheets because she hadn’t actually signed up. She shrugs and, she and Nicolas are still so close that her shoulder rubs against his. “Uh, I have no idea. But- “ she says, as she catches sight of Kamil making his way toward them, “Since there’s Kamil- “ She points towards Kamil. “I’m guessing not.”

“Hey, guys,” Kamil says, he gestures towards the table, “Table looks great. You guys do all this? Sorry I didn’t get here in time to help.”

Minnie smiles at him. She hasn’t seen him in awhile. Every since he started library school, his schedule at the library has been irregular. “Nah,” she says, “You didn’t miss anything.” She gestures at the table. “Nandra did all this.”

“Cool. Cool,” he says, “So we’re all set then?”

“Yup,” Nicolas says, bouncing a little, “And you- “ He points at Kamil. “You have to help me show Miss Minnie that this can- “ He gestures wildly, presumably to indicate, like, all of the Street Fair. “Be fun.”

Kamil lifts his eyebrows. “Yeah, okay, sure, man.” He leans across the table, shields his mouth with one hand and mock-whispers to Minnie, “He’s never done this before has he?”

Minnie laughs. “Actually,” she says, “I’m pretty sure he has.”

“Huh,” Kamil says, “Okay, then.”

She shakes her head. “Children’s librarians, you know how they are, never met anything they couldn’t be way too enthusiastic about.”

“Hey- “ Nicolas says and it sounds half-affronted, half like he’s trying not to laugh.

Kamil laughs. “Yeah, yeah. Too true.”

“How are you, Kamil,” she says, “Feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.”

He shrugs. “Okay. Everything’s crazy with school and work and all, you know?”

She nods. “Yeah. How’s the semester going?” She glances toward Nicolas. “Kamil’s in his second semester of library school.”

“That’s great,” Nicolas says.

“Thanks, man,” Kamil says, “It’s, uh, I like my classes for the semester, uh, except- “ He glances at her then looks away.

“You can say you don’t like your cataloging class. It’s fine.”

He smiles a little. “Um, it’s not bad, it’s just- “ He shrugs. “I don’t know how you do that all day.”

“Yeah, well,” she says, with a smile, “I don’t know how you spend all day at the circulation desk. Now come on back here so we can get the iPad set up. I’m pretty sure they’re going to start letting people in soon.”

At first, it’s quiet, the only people who stop by their table are a couple of older ladies who are mostly looking for free stuff to give their grandkids. They also get very excited about the fact that they’re giving away bags. They then stuff one of everything else they’re giving away into the bags and tell them to “Have a nice day.” They don’t take a single flyer.

It goes on like that for awhile. They stand there in the sun and watch retirees take their free stuff. “Should I,” Kamil says, after a group of six ladies have toddled off to peruse the jewelry the vendor next to them is selling, “Uh, put out more stuff.”

Minnie squints at the disheveled mess that was Nandra’s carefully fanned out piles of stuff. “Um, maybe, wait until it’s all gone? Uh, what do you think, Nicolas?”

Nicolas, who looks much less excited then when he’d first arrived, shrugs and says, “I guess. Maybe we should- “ He waves at the table. “Straighten it up or something?”

They do their best but they can’t replicate the precision of Nandra’s designs.

“So,” Minnie says, bumping her shoulder into Nicolas’, “When does the fun start?”

He leans into her. “Hush, Miss Minnie, there will be fun. You’ll see.”

“Right,” she says, out of the corner of her eye she can see Kamil trying not to laugh, “Of course. Any second now.”

And, of course, that’s exactly when, after a hideous screech of feedback, music blares from the speakers at the bandstand in the middle of the block.

“See,” Nicolas says, shouting to be heard over the music, “Now we have- “ He wiggles his hips, bumping against Minnie. “Music.” He drapes his arm around her shoulder. “Do you know what this means?”

“What?” Minnie says even though it can’t mean anything good.

“It means,” Nicolas says, “You have to dance with me.”

“Oh, no,” she snaps, slipping out from under his arm. Kamil is definitely laughing now even though he’s trying to hide it behind his hand. “I am doing no such thing.”

Nicolas full-on pouts. “Come on, Miss Minnie, one dance.”

She shakes her head. “Absolutely not.”

He holds out his hand. “Come on, take my hand. Don’t you trust me?”

“Not even a little,” she says but she takes his hand anyway.

He squeezes her hand. His fingers are warm and a little sweaty but she can’t bring herself to care. He smiles, even brighter than sun beating down on them, and dances. His steps don’t match the music blaring over the speakers but he moves with a mesmerizing, easy grace. He doesn’t pull her into the dance, just uses her hand and her outstretched arm to steady himself.

When he’s done, he dips his head in her direction, like a bow, squeezes her hand, and says, “Thanks for the dance, Miss Minnie.”

“Right,” she says, and, maybe, she should take her hand back now, but she doesn’t, and he doesn’t let go either, “Uh, you’re welcome.” And they stand there for a second, hand in hand, staring at each other.

Then Kamil says, “Well, that’s going to kill on social media,” and Minnie drops Nicolas’ hand and whirls towards him.

“What exactly do you mean, Kamil? Tell me right now.”

Kamil holds up his hands. “Relax. Relax. Nandra told me to put stuff up on like our Twitter and Facebook and stuff during my shift. Like cute stuff or whatever, she said, and that- “ He waves his hand at them. “Totally counts.”

Minnie takes a step forward. “I am going to kill you dead.”

Kamil takes a step back. His hands are still outstretched. “Aww, come on, Minnie. It was too good to pass up.”

“Aww, Miss Minnie,” Nicolas interjects, “You don’t want the people to see our beautiful dance.”

She crosses her arms over her chest. She’s going to say no, really, she is, but he looks so hopeful. “Fine,” she says, “It can stay up.” She probably would’ve said more but then they’re inundated by a crowd of giggling pre-teen girls.

The girls, are actually, pretty fun to talk to. They, at least, seem somewhat interested in some of the programs Micah has coming up. And one of them double-backs while her friends are buying lemonade across the street and, with shy smile, grabs some of Micah’s flyers and shoves them in her purse before scampering back across the street to join her friends.

When she’s gone, Kamil waves his phone and says, “Hey, Leroy just texted me. He says he’s coming by. Wants to know if you guys want coffee or anything?”

Kamil carefully types out each of their coffee orders in detail then says, “He thinks he’ll be here in like 20 minutes.”

Minnie actually loses track of time because things pick up. They give out a new card. A bunch of families with kids that clearly recognize Nicolas from story time stop by. Nicolas goes around the table to give them all high-fives and gets several knee-high hugs in return. Minnie elbows Kamil and hisses, “See. That’s what you should put up on twitter or whatever.”

Kamil rolls his eyes but he does take a few pictures.

When Leroy shows up, it doesn’t seem possible that 20 minutes have already passed. “Hey, guys,” he says, coming around the table, “How’s it going? Looks busy.”

“Yeah,” Minnie says, “It kinda just got- “ She gestures at the departing families. “Busy all of a sudden.”

Kamil reaches over and tugs on Leroy’s sleeve. “You’re not wearing the shirt. Pretty sure that means you can’t be back here.”

Leroy elbows him (and comes perilously close to spilling coffee all over the table) and says, “Shut up or I’m keeping yours.”

“Maybe,” Minnie says, “Just- “ She reaches out and takes tray of drinks from Leroy’s hands and places it on the table. “I don’t want to explain to Nandra how we got coffee all over everything.”

“Right,” Leroy says, rubbing his hands on his jeans, “”Course.”

“So,” she says, “What do I owe you?”

Leroy rattles off a number and she just (barely) has exact change to give him. He takes Nicolas’ money without complaint but, when Kamil tries to get him to tell him how much he owes him, he looks at the ground and mumbles, “S’nothing, ‘kay, s’on me.”

This leads to scuffling, protracted argument which drives Minnie and Nicolas to the far end of the table so they don’t get hit by someone’s elbow. “So,” Nicolas says, leaning into her, “What’s all that about?”

Minnie takes a sip of coffee and considers. “Flirting,” she says finally, “I think.”

“Huh,” Nicolas says, “I could see that.”

Minnie only intervenes when they knock into the table and it almost gets pushed over. “Okay,” she says, “Enough.” They both freeze then turn to look at her with the same chastened puppy dog expression. “Right,” she says, “Kamil take the coffee and say thank you. Leroy, thanks for getting us coffee but, if you’re going to stay here, I’m going to make you put on the spare shirt Nandra left and stay for the rest of the shift.”

Kamil ducks his head and smiles at Leroy. “Uh, so, thanks for the coffee,” he says.

Leroy smiles and tugs on his ear. “S’no problem. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you later, yeah?”

“Right,” Kamil says, “Sure. Yeah.”

Leroy waves at her and Nicolas and then he goes around the table and out into the throngs of people filling the street.

The rest of the time goes by surprisingly quickly. Before she knows it, Minnie’s looking up at the sound of Ina hollering, “Hey, Minnie.” Ina’s wearing her library shirt with the sleeves rolled up so it looks more like a tank top. Kim’s with her and they’re holding hands. Minnie ignores Ina and says, “Hey, Kim, how are you?”

Kim smiles and says, “I’m good. How’re you?”

Minnie shrugs. “Not bad, I guess.”

Ina waves her hand in front of Minnie’s face. “Hello. I’m here too.”

Minnie shoves at Ina’s hand. “Whatever. I like Kim better.”

Kim laughs and elbows Ina. “You hear that, sweetie, she likes me better.”

Ina rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever.”

Minnie smiles at Kim. “How’d she convince you to come with her?”

Kim laughs a little. “Probably better if I don’t tell you.” She tugs on Ina’s hand. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to the rest of your co-workers?” She gestures at Nicolas and Kamil.

Once Ina’s done with introductions, Minnie says, “Do you know who else is working with you?”

“Well, definitely Taylor,” Ina says, “We passed him on the way over.” She flashes the smile that always makes Minnie want to duck because it never means anything good. “Just wait until you see who’s with him.”

Nicolas leans forward. “Is it- “

Ina cuts him off. “You’ll see in a minute.”

She’s right. The crowd parts and there’s Taylor with a little boy perched on his shoulders. Walking next to him is the same woman – Alexis – that Minnie had seen him talking to that day in the Children’s room. Alexis’ holding the hand of an adorable little girl wearing a yellow sundress. “Oh my God,” Nicolas says, “Gordon’s gonna be so bummed he missed this. We knew it.”

Taylor doesn’t bring Alexis or the kids over to the table. He carefully sets the little boy down next to his sister then dips his head to whisper something in Alexis’ ear. She smiles and touches his wrist then she takes the little boy’s hand and they go back into the crowd.

When Taylor reaches the table, he points at Nicolas, who’s too busy with his phone to notice, “Not one word,” he says.

Nicolas looks up. “Fine,” he says, with a smile, “I already texted Gordon anyway.”

Taylor narrows his eyes. “Whatever,” he says, “I don’t want to hear anything about it from him either.”

Nicolas widens his eyes, the picture of innocence, “Of course not. We would never.”

Taylor rolls his eyes. “Uh-huh. Your shift is done. Go on. Get out of here. Leave me alone.”

Nicolas curls his hand around Minnie’s wrist. “Sure. You all have fun. The iPad’s set up to do new cards. There’s extra of everything in the bins.” Kamil starts edging around the table as soon as Nicolas starts talking.

“Wait,” Minnie says, “Uh, is anyone else coming to help you guys.”

Ina waves her hand. “Go. Go. I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”

Kamil doesn’t need to be told twice. He waves at all of them and says, “See y’all, Monday,” and then he’s gone.

Nicolas still has his hand curled around her wrist. “Come on, Miss Minnie,” he says, and Ina’s eyebrows climb up very high, “Let’s go.”

And Minnie lets him lead her around the table mostly because she wants to get away from Ina as fast as possible. “Uh,” she says, waving at Ina, Kim, and Taylor, “See you later.”

Nicolas doesn’t lets go of her wrist once they’re out in the midst of the crowd. “I,” he says, “Uh, I was wondering if you wanted to go get lunch or something?”

She doesn’t think about her answer (because if she does she’ll say no). “Uh, sure. Yeah.”

He flashes her a smile and lets go of her wrist. “Felix’s has a stall down that way.” He waves his hand to the left. “Do you want to go there?”

There’s a line at Felix’s. “So,” says Nicolas, while they’re waiting their turn, “Tell me, Miss Minnie, did you have any fun?”

She keeps her face as straight as possible and shakes her head. “Not even a little.”

He pokes her arm and says, “Oh, come on, I definitely saw you smile, like, more than once.” She smiles. “See,” he says, “Just like that.”

“Maybe,” she says, “I had a little bit of fun. Maybe.”

He grins. “I knew it.”

“But I’m not doing it again for like, another five years.”

“Oh, come on,” he says, “Don’t be like that, Miss Minnie.”

She shrugs and says, “Come on, it’s our turn.”

Felix’s second in command, Roy, is the one taking the orders. He’s wearing a faded national team jersey with the sleeves held up with two black bands. He leans out of the stall and exchanges a ridiculously complicated looking handshake with Nicolas. ”Hey, my man, how are you?”

Good. Good,” Nicolas says, “How are you? You guys look slammed.

Roy shrugs. “Yeah. But that’s good.” He waves at Minnie. “Hey, Minnie.”

She waves back. “Hey, Roy.

So,” Roy says, “What can I get you guys?

For the fair they seem to mostly be doing a variations of meat on sticks. She and Nicolas pick what they want and pay. He won’t let Nicolas pay for hers even though he offers. Their argument about it seems to amuse Roy.

“So,” Nicolas says, once they have their food, “You want to walk and eat, maybe look around?”

She shrugs. “Sure.”

It’s fun, walking the fair with Nicolas. He has something to say about everything they pass and he tries to convince her to buy six separate ridiculous things she does not need.

She’s disappointed when they both are finished with their lunch because she’s not quite ready to say goodbye. Nicolas takes her empty stick and tosses it, along with his, into the nearest garbage can. “So,” he says, gesturing to a nearby stand, “Do you want to get ice cream?”

“Sure,” she says, “Ice cream sounds good.”

The ice cream stand is one of the last ones left before the end of the fair. When they get to the end, Nicolas says, “Uh, do you maybe want to walk down to the park or something?”

“Yeah, okay,” she says.

It’s quiet in the park. It’s nice, after the hustle and bustle of the fair. Nicolas’ quiet too, like he left his usual chatter on the streets of the fair. They pass a bench, tucked under weeping willow tree. “Do you,” Nicolas says, more hesitant than she thinks she’s ever heard him, “Want to sit?”

“Sure,” she says and he smiles.

They have to duck under the branches to get to the bench. The bench is like a separate little world. Sunlight comes in through the branches in zig-zagging streams. “This is nice,” she says, when they sit down.

“Yeah,” Nicolas says. He tips his head back and the sunlight paints him gold. She looks away. Nicolas leans into her, presses his shoulder into hers. “I had fun today,” he says, quiet and sincere.

She puts down her empty ice-cream dish on the bench and looks back at him. “Me too,” she says.

He smiles at her. “You have ice cream- “ He touches the side of his mouth.

“Oh,” she says and she lifts her hand but he beats her to it, his fingers sliding, warm and soft, along the side of her mouth.

“There,” he says. He settles his hand along her cheek. “Minnie,” he says, “I-  Can I- “

She thinks she nods and then he’s kissing her. He goes slow, like he doesn’t want to startle her, and his mouth tastes like chocolate ice cream and a hint of salt and spice. She closes her eyes. Kisses him back. And she wants-  She wants so much. And–she can’t.

She opens her eyes. His eyes are still closed, his eyelashes dark against the golden hue of his skin.

She pulls away and his eyes snap open. “I- “ she says, the words choking her, “Uh, I have to- “ She gets up. Nicolas says her name. “I have to go.”

Nicolas calls after her but she doesn’t turn around. She walks straight through the branches and they slap against her face. She keeps walking and doesn’t stop until she’s back to her car.

It takes her three tries to unlock the door. She sits there, in her car, with her fingers dug hard into her thighs, for ten whole minutes, reminding herself that there’s a reason not to-  Because she had and all she’d ended up with was unhappy memories and a bunch of useless bits of someone else’s life that they were never coming back for.

She drives herself home and ignores the way that the lingering taste of chocolate on her tongue tastes a little like hope, like possibility.

******

Work is a comfort in its familiarity, in the way it gives Minnie something to do instead of think. But- 

Nicolas stays away. And she can’t blame him.

Ina gives her two, almost three days, to bury herself in work and snap at anyone who gets too close. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, Ina stands up, comes over to Minnie’s desk and says, “Enough. You’re freaking everyone out. Even Colby who’s only been here for like the last thirty minutes.”

Colby startles like a lanky, wide-eyed deer at the sound of his name. “I,” he says, “Am okay. Really.”

Ina waves dismissively. “We are going to dinner,” she says, pointing at Minnie, “And we are going to talk.”

“Fine,” Minnie says because Ina has that glint in her eye, the one that means she won’t back down for anything.

They go to the diner. Ina lets her get away with not talking for, basically, all of dinner. Ina orders dessert, cheesecake, and asks the waitress to bring two forks.

“I don’t want any,” Minnie says, once the waitress is gone.

Ina shrugs. “We’ll see.” She pauses then says, “Tell me what happened, Minnie.”

Minnie fiddles with the spoon from her place setting. “What makes you think something happened?”

Ina sighs. “Minnie, please don’t do this.”

The waitress comes back with the cheesecake. Minnie waits until she’s gone then she says, without looking up, “We, uh, we kissed.”

“And,” Ina says, because she knows Minnie too well.

Minnie spins the spoon in a circle. “I panicked. I- I left. I just-  I left.”

“Have you,” Ina says, spearing a bite of cheesecake, “Talked to him since?”

Minnie shakes her head. “I can’t, I-  Ina- “

“Look at me,” Ina says, “Please.” Minnie looks up. “Do you like him?” Ina says.

Minnie picks up the fork resting next to the slice of cheesecake. Puts it down. “Yes,” she says, “I really do. But Ina- “ She stops.

Ina pushes the cheesecake closer. “Have a bite of cheesecake.” Minnie scoops up a small bite and puts it in her mouth. “I’m,” Ina says, while the sweet tang of the cheesecake slides along Minnie’s tongue, “going to say his name. Okay?” She pauses but doesn’t wait for a response. “David, what he did, it was a dick move. And I know–I know you thought he was, the one, and then he–“ She gestures with her fork. “But, Minnie, that doesn’t mean that that’s what’ll happen with Nicolas or, if not with him, with whoever you, you know…” Ina puts down her fork. “And I know you, I know you think, if you don’t try or whatever, you can avoid- “ She waves her hand, like that’s enough to encompass all the things that David did, all the ways he broke Minnie’s heart without really meaning to. “But all it’s doing is making you miss someone who could be ten times better for you than David, who could be the person you deserve.” She pauses and Minnie has to grip the edge of the chair to physically keep herself in place, to keep herself from bolting, “I don’t know, Minnie, if Nicolas could be that person or not, but if you don’t try…”

Minnie lets go of the chair. Her hands ache a little and she can almost still feel the edge of the chair digging into her palms. “I,” she says, “I think I want to try.”

Ina smiles. “Okay,” she says, “That’s- that’s good, Minnie.”

“Do you think,” Minnie says slowly, “Nicolas, do think he still…”

Ina picks up her fork again and takes a bite of cheesecake. “I think so. He- “ She pauses, eats her bite of cheesecake, then says, “He really likes you, you know? And, I don’t know, I think there’s a good chance.”

Minnie fists her hands. Digs her fingernails into her palms. Then she opens her hands and rests them flat on the table. “Okay,” she says, “Okay.”

Ina smiles. “So,” she says, “You going to help me eat this cheesecake, or what?”

And Minnie laughs, more relief than anything else. “I told you,” she says, “I didn’t want any,” but she picks up her fork and takes a bite.

“Uh-huh,” Ina says, “Sure you don’t.”

They don’t talk while they eat the cheesecake but it’s a different kind of silence then before.

******

Nicolas emails her on Thursday afternoon. For five whole minutes she just stares at her computer screen and doesn’t open it. When she does open it, it’s just him finalizing their plans for getting to the workshop tomorrow. She emails him back and says that yes, she’s still fine with him driving.

The next morning, she goes to Children’s to meet up with him. He’s coming out of the Children’s Room as she’s coming out of Tech Services. She should say something but she just stares at him. She hasn’t really seen him since- And it’s stupid how much she’s missed him.

“I,” he says, with a tentative smile that she kind of hates because that’s not how he usually smiles at her, “was just coming- “ He waves his hand toward the door to Tech Services. “- to get you.”

She smiles a little. “Well, uh,” she says, “Here I am.”

“Yeah,” he says and he almost sounds, she doesn’t know, wistful or something, “Here you are.”

“Well,” she says, “We, uh, we should go, huh?”

He gesture towards the backdoor. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

She steps forward first and she catches a glimpse of him lifting his hand, like he’s going to put it on the small of her back to guide her, then dropping it. She stares determinedly out the back door and keeps walking. Doesn’t look back to see if he’s there behind her.

They get into Nicolas’ battered Corolla. She puts on her seatbelt and waits. Nicolas doesn’t start the car right away. “Minnie,” he says, “I- “

She cuts him off. “Can we, uh, can we just go to the workshop. And then after…” She trails off.

Nicolas quiet for a moment. She doesn’t look at him. Can’t bring herself to look at his face right now.

“Sure,” he says, “Whatever you want,” and starts the car. The radio blares to life. She recognizes the chatter of the morning DJ on the local Spanish language station. “Sorry,” he says, “I can- “ He reaches for the console.

“It’s fine,” she says, “I don’t mind.” Better the radio than a prolonged uncomfortable silence.

“Okay,” he says.

The radio carries them to the workshop. Fills in their silence (the one she imposed on them) with music, traffic and weather reports, and meaningless chatter.

The workshop itself is actually interesting (well, two of the three presenters are, which Minnie considers pretty good for this kind of thing) and she’s glad she agreed to come. Nicolas’ vibrating with energy when it’s over and they’re well into an animated discussion about which ideas they think could potentially be of use with their collection.

Their discussion takes them all the way back to the library. They actually sit in the car in the parking lot while Nicolas tries to convince her that they should at least try some of the ideas in a small part of the adult collection as well.

She shakes her head. “That’s not up to me, you know that. That’s all Rhett and Fallon and Nandra.”

He smiles. “You could convince them. I know you could, Miss Minnie.”

And, he hasn’t called her that, since- 

She looks away. “We should,” she says, unfastening her seatbelt, “Go inside.”

“Do you,” he says, and, tentative and soft, “Want me to apologize? For…” He trails off.

She makes herself turn and look at him. “No,” she says, “If anything, uh, I think I should. But- “ She doesn’t want to have this conversation like this. “Do-  Would you want to get like, coffee or something with me after work?”

He smiles. “Yeah. Okay. Sure.”

“Right,” she says, “Okay,” and opens the car door. “I’ll, uh, I’ll see you then.”

“Okay, Miss Minnie,” he says with a smile.

She turns her face away to hide the smile she can’t stop.

They meet in the hall at closing time.

“So,” Nicolas says, once they’re outside, “Where do you want to go? Starbucks?”

Starbucks is Ina’s vice not Minnie’s. She wrinkles her nose. “No,” she says, “Have you been to Alexander’s?”

Nicolas shakes his head. “No. I think I’ve passed it a few times but never gone in.”

That’s a travesty. Everyone should go to Alexander’s. “Okay,” she says, “We’re definitely going to Alexander’s then. It’s this Italian style, kind of, coffee shop. It’s too late for their pastries, which are, like, seriously amazing. But their coffee is still, like, a thousand times better than Starbucks.”

“That,” Nicolas says, with a smile, “Would not be hard. I think Felix’s coffee is better than Starbucks.”

She rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Alexander’s is amazing. You’ll see.”

The walk to Alexander’s is short and they don’t say much on the way over. When they get there, she holds the door open for him and lets him go in first. The decor of Alexander’s is eclectic in a way that doesn’t really make sense until you meet Alexander himself. It’s mostly popular with the students from the university but Minnie had found it right after she started at the library and basically never looked back.

“Interesting,” Nicolas says, looking around.

“Yeah,” she says, “Alexander has, uh, kind of wild, all over the place taste.”

“So there’s actually an Alexander?” Nicolas says as they get in line.

“Uh-huh,” she says, “There is. He started this place, like, after he finished art school or, maybe, after he dropped out of art school? Something like that.”

“So,” Nicolas says, “Some of the art on the wall is his?”

Minnie glances around. The art in Alexander’s is always changing. She shrugs. “Maybe,” she says, “He does put his stuff up sometimes. But there’s always something different up. I can’t really keep track.”

It’s their turn next, which puts a halt to the conversation. She orders espresso, something she’d never really tried until she started coming to Alexander’s but Alexander had convinced her to try it once and, now, she has it every once and while, but only in Alexander’s. Nicolas dithers a bit and then decides on cold brew coffee. They pay then take their drinks over to an empty corner table.

Nicolas takes a sip of his coffee. “Whoa,” he says, “You weren’t kidding. This is amazing.”

“I told you,” Minnie says, feeling, really, quite smug. She takes a sip from the glass of sparkling water that came with her espresso. That first time, when Alexander convinced her to try espresso, he’d spent a good ten minutes explaining the proper way to drink it. She tries her best to follow his instructions.

Nicolas takes another sip of his coffee. “I,” he says, “Uh, I want to- “ Minnie picks up her spoon and stirs her espresso so she has something to focus on besides Nicolas’ earnest, wide-eyed expression. “Say sorry. I, um, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or…” He trails off. “So, um, I’m sorry.”

Minnie puts her spoon down and looks up. “You don’t-  she says, “Uh, please don’t be sorry.”

He bites his lower lip then says, “But, uh- “

She cuts him off. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I- I kind of panicked and- “ She pauses. “It sounds dumb, or like, I’m lying or, I don’t know. But that was about me not- “ She waves her hand between them. “What we, uh, you know, what happened. That was-  It was, uh, that was nice.” And she has to stop talking and take a sip of her espresso because she doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing or if any of that made any sense and she just needs to be quiet for a second and think.

And Nicolas, who always surprises her a little (in all the best ways), says, slowly, a smile spreading across his face, “You thought it was nice?”

She has to look away then, has to look down at her espresso and take another sip. “Yeah,” she says, more to her espresso than to Nicolas, “I, uh, I did.”

“Me too,” he says, and she looks back up to find him smiling at her. He fiddles with his cup of coffee. “Would you, uh,” he says, “Tell me why…” He trails off but she knows he means why did you run off and leave me then?.

She doesn’t know how to explain David and all the cracks him leaving left in her. Doesn’t even know if she should. At least, not right now, in this moment. “I,” she says, carefully, “My last relationship, it- “ She stops.

“Ended badly?” Nicolas offers tentatively.

She nods. “Yeah,” she says, “And I’ve kind of been, I don’t know, avoiding- “ She waves her hand. “But, you, I, uh, I like you, but I think- “ She stops and presses her lips together. Tries to find the right words. “We, you know, and I just-  For a moment, all I was was- “ She looks away. She doesn’t know if she can say this next part.

“Scared?” And Nicolas’ tone is so gentle, so understanding, she can hardly bear it. She nods. “But,” he says, slow and careful, “You like me. You want to- “

She turns back. “I do,” she says, even though he hasn’t finished his thought, “I-  Yeah.”

He smiles, beautiful and brilliant. “Okay,” he says, “That’s, uh, that’s good. Because me too. I want to too.”

She smiles back. “That’s-  That’s good.”

“So,” he says, “Will you have dinner with me?”

“Like, today?” she blurts.

His face falls a little. “Uh, yeah,” he says.

“Oh,” she says, “Uh, I kinda, I had this idea.”

He smiles and leans closer. “What kind of idea?”

She fiddles with her espresso cup. “Um, so, tomorrow afternoon is, uh, mine and Ina’s first game of the spring. And I thought, uh, you said-  Would you like to come and watch and then, like after, uh- “

He beams. “After I can take you out to dinner to celebrate your fabulous victory?”

She laughs a little. “We might not win.”

He nods decisively. “You will, Miss Minnie, I have faith.” She doesn’t but she’ll take his faith and hold on to it as tightly as she can. He leans even closer and whispers, “But I’ll still buy you dinner if you lose,” and she laughs.

He rocks back in his chair and says, “So, tell me when and where, so I can get there early and get the best seat.”

“Uh,” she says, “The game’s like, three-ish, we never start on time. And we’re playing-  You know the old fields over on Willow Road?” He nods “There. On one of the fields. We won’t know which one until that day. Uh, just look for the team in light blue t-shirts.”

He smiles. “I’ll be there.”

******

Saturday is bright and sunny. It’s warm but not too hot. It’s a perfect day for a game.

Minnie spots Nicolas as soon as she steps onto the field for the first half. He’s sitting with Kim, as close as spectators are allowed. He waves wildly when he sees her and doesn’t stop until she raises her hand and waves in return.

Ina jostles into her. “Flirt with Nicolas later,” she says, tugging on Minnie’s shirt sleeve, “We have a game to win. Like, seriously, Minnie we have to win.”

“What?” Minnie says, elbowing her, “Don’t tell me you bet with Jacquelina again?”

“Fine,” Ina says, “I won’t tell you. But we still better win.”

“Yeah. Yeah,” Minnie says, “So, like, don’t let her score on you. She always scores on you.”

Ina shoves her. “Whatever, just, go, do your magic. Make sure we win.”

They win. 3-1 and Jacquelina scores the only goal for her team.

Minnie picks her way through the scrum of players and spectators until she finds Nicolas and Kim. As soon as he sees her, Nicolas rushes over to her. He smiles and takes both her hands. “You were so amazing,” he says squeezing her hands, “Really. Like so awesome.”

“Uh, thanks,” she says.

“You’re an amazing player,” he says. He’s still holding her hands and he’s looking at her like she’s-  Like he’s never seen anything like her.

She has to look away for a second. “Um, thanks, I mean, I’m okay.”

Ina arrives, then, slamming into her back and sending her careening into Nicolas. He catches her. It’s a bit awkward, their hands and arms tangled together and squished between them. Ina shakes her. “Don’t listen to her,” Ina says to Nicolas, “She made the All-State team three years in a row and, like, went to college on a scholarship.”

“Really?” Nicolas says.

She shrugs. “Yeah, I mean, it’s not a big d- “

Nicolas cuts her off. “That’s amazing.” He pauses. “You’re amazing.”

And she’s still hot from playing but she can feel her cheeks heat all the same. “Thanks,” she says and it doesn’t feel like enough but he smiles at her, wide and bright, so maybe it is.

Ina promptly ruins the moment by going, “Aww, aren’t you two so adorable?”

“Shut up,” Minnie snaps, “Don’t you have a girlfriend to bother or something?” Ina gives her one last, too-hard pat on the back then bounds off towards Kim. “Uh,” Minnie says, “Sorry about…”

Nicolas smiles at her. “Ah, no worries, Ina is…” He shrugs.

“Yeah,” she says.

They’re still, even with Ina gone, kind of awkwardly squished with each other. She takes a little step back. He lets go of her hands. “I told you you would win,”

“You did,” she says.

“And are you ready to go celebrate your fabulous victory?”

“Sure,” she says, “As long as wherever we’re going doesn’t mind that I’m sweaty and kind of covered in dirt.”

He laughs then he ducks his head, smiles up at her, and says, “Uh, I brought, like a picnic kind of thing. I thought, maybe, we could walk across the street to the park, maybe eat there?”

It’s kind of perfect. And Nicolas’- Well. He’s not perfect. But he’s something good. Someone she wants more of in her life, because he makes her smile, makes her hope. “That, uh,” she says, “that sounds great.”

He beams. “Well, Miss Minnie,” he says, holding out his hand, “Shall we?”

She smiles back at him. “Yeah,” she says, and takes his hand, “Let’s go.”

He interlaces their fingers and squeezes her hand. “Yeah,” he says, “Let’s.”

 

The End.

Author: Ella Primrose

Writing since I was a little kid, weaving tales, adventures, love stories....